Most people associate youth with vigor and vitality, but unfortunately, there are a growing number of cases where young people are stricken by autoimmune diseases before they even reach adulthood.
While it depends on genetics, the environment or even lifestyle, there are over 80 autoimmune diseases that people as young as six may have to live with. These diseases can ravage the body and leave patients — especially young ones — exhausted with the constant battle and treatments. What follows is a brief explanation of what an autoimmune disease is and a few examples of famous people who contracted one while they were young.
If you or someone you know has an autoimmune disease, you can look for help from Clearbrook Treatment Centers.
What is an Autoimmune Disease?
An autoimmune disease is a condition where the body’s immune system, which normally attacks foreign agents like viruses and bacteria that enter the body, begins attacking the body itself. In essence, the immune system becomes confused and thinks that certain tissues within the body are foreign and dangerous. This can lead to the destruction of cells, the abnormal growth of organs or changes in the functions of certain organs.
The exact causes of the many autoimmune disorders out there are unclear, but one prevailing theory is that some microorganisms enter the body and trigger changes in the immune system, causing them to lash out at the body itself. This would most likely happen in those people with gene that make them predisposed to such changes. Environmental pressures such as poor nutrition may also play a role.
While there are many autoimmune diseases that can affect young people, there are a couple that seem to do so more than others. Here are the most prevalent among them:
Type I Diabetes
This an incurable but treatable disease that affects pancreatic cells. Once known as “juvenile” diabetes because it occurs most frequently in childhood, Type I diabetes attacks the pancreas and diminishes its ability to produce insulin, a vital hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels. This can result in too much or too little sugar in the blood, which can result, if untreated, in coma or death.
The causes of Type I diabetes are unknown. Something — most likely a virus or something in the environment — triggers the immune system to attack the pancreatic cells. Treatment for diabetes includes a regulated diet to ensure there are no sudden drops or spikes in blood sugar, and regular insulin shots. Once a patient’s contracts diabetes, they will need these shots for life, sometimes twice a day.
Bret Michaels (the lead singer of Poison) and actresses Halle Berry and Sharon Stone all live with Type I diabetes.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease that mainly affects women, with some showing symptoms as young as 15. Another incurable disease, Lupus causes painful inflammations in a variety of body tissues, from skin to joints to majors organs like the kidneys, brain and heart. The most common early symptom is a butterfly-shaped rash on the face that covers both cheeks.
Lupus appears to be a genetic disorder, with people who carry the gene triggering symptoms after being exposed to certain drugs, infections or even sunlight. There is no cure, but treatments such as medications and steroids, a good diet and protection from sunlight can help reduce flare-ups and allow those afflicted to live a normal life.
Popular singer Selena Gomez was first diagnosed with Lupus in 2013 while she was on tour. Toni Braxton and Seal — two other famous singers — also live with the disease.
Crohn’s Disease is an extremely painful and chronic inflammation of the digestive tract, usually diagnoses in people aged 15-30. The symptoms can be mild to severe — some people afflicted with the disease barely even know they have it — and include diarrhea, abdominal pain, fatigue and weight loss. A secondary concern with Crohn’s Disease is colorectal cancer, so many people must undergo frequent screenings.
Another incurable disease, Crohn’s can be treated with steroids and medications that suppress the immune system to slow the attack on the digestive tract cells. Suppressing the immune system can have consequences as well, leaving the system weakened to fight invasive organisms.
There are about 200,000 cases of Crohn’s identified each year. Actress Shannen Doherty from Beverly Hills 90210 has lived with the disease since she was young, as well as Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McReady.
Autoimmune diseases can affect everyone, young or old.
Eva Bolton has a background in psychology and works with teenagers and young people on the topic of addiction. Also keen to involve parents she reaches out to them in her articles which appear online.