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What is an Autoimmune Disease?

By August 14, 2019Uncategorized

During the first half of the twentieth century, thousands of people were exposed to unsafe levels of radiation, as well as dangerous chemicals, while working and living on or near Department of Energy (DOE) facilities. Unfortunately, it was not until decades later that experts discovered the link between exposure to these types of substances and certain deadly illnesses, including autoimmune diseases.  In an effort to help those who were affected by exposure to these dangerous substances, the federal government passed a series of laws to help cover the cost of treatment. For help determining whether you could collect home healthcare services through one of these programs for your own autoimmune disease, please call a member of our home healthcare services team today. 

Common Autoimmune Diseases

Our immune systems are uniquely designed to defend the body against infection and disease. It is possible, however, for an immune system to malfunction, in which case it could begin to attack healthy cells, organs, and tissues due to an inability to differentiate those cells from foreign bodies. Known as autoimmune diseases, these disorders can affect many parts of the body. In fact, there are more than 80 types of autoimmune diseases (Autoimmune Diseases, July 2019), the most common of which include:

    • Type 1 diabetes, which occurs when a person’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin producing cells in the pancreas;
    • Rheumatoid arthritis, which is a type of autoimmune disease that involves the immune system creating antibodies that attach to the linings of the joints, causing inflammation, pain, and swelling;
    • Lupus, which occurs when antibodies attach to different tissues throughout the body, including the kidneys, lungs, and joints;
    • Multiple sclerosis, a disease that involves the attacking of the nerve cells by the immune system, resulting in pain, blindness, muscle spasms, weakness, and poor coordination;
    • Psoriasis, where overactive blood cells collect in the skin, which stimulates rapid reproduction of skin cells and resulting in rashes;
    • Thyroid disease, which involves the production of antibodies that stimulate the thyroid gland to release excessive amounts of the thyroid hormone; and
    • Inflammatory bowel disease, which involves the attacking of the lining of the intestines by the body’s immune system and can result in fever, weight loss, and abdominal pain.

Unfortunately, diagnosing autoimmune diseases is notoriously difficult. This is largely due to the fact that a person’s symptoms alone are not usually enough to confirm a diagnosis. Instead, these symptoms must be combined with specific blood markers and in some cases, a tissue biopsy.

What are the Symptoms of Autoimmune Diseases?

Because these diseases all affect different parts of the body, their symptoms are also wide ranging and include: 

    • Fatigue;
    • Recurring fever;
    • Swollen glands;
    • Impaired vision;
    • Hair loss;
    • Digestive issues and abdominal pain;
    • Muscle pain and weakness;
    • Numbness or tingling in the extremities;
    • Skin rash; and
    • Joint pain and swelling.

How severe these symptoms are depends on a number of factors, including genetics, personal health, and environment. For this reason, the symptoms that one person suffers could be mild, while those of someone else suffering from the same disease could be so severe as to be debilitating or even life threatening. In many cases, those who are diagnosed with autoimmune diseases could require lifelong treatment to ease their symptoms. 

Autoimmune Disease Risk Factors 

Despite decades of research, experts still don’t know the cause of many of the most serious types of autoimmune diseases. There is evidence, however, that certain factors significantly increase a person’s chances of developing autoimmune disorders. For instance, lupus and multiple sclerosis tend to run in families, while smoking has been linked to hyperthyroidism and rheumatoid arthritis. Obesity can also increase the risk of developing arthritis, as can taking certain medications, which can trigger drug-induced lupus. Exposure to certain environmental hazards also increases the risk of contracting an autoimmune disease, including exposure to ultraviolet radiation, pesticides and other agricultural chemicals, organic mercury, and smoke. 

Free Home Healthcare Services 

If you or a loved one suffer from an autoimmune disease or another illness caused by exposure to radiation, uranium, or another hazardous substance while working on or near a DOE facility, you could be eligible for free home healthcare services under federal law. To learn more about filing an EEOICPA or RECA claim, please contact a member of our United Energy Workers Healthcare team. We can be reached at 888-416-0508 or via online message, so please don’t hesitate to call or contact us online today.