Research Spotlight: Atopic Dermatitis and Other Autoimmune Conditions

As a self-proclaimed ‘armchair scientist’ and a person living with multiple chronic illnesses, I like to keep up to date on the latest research and innovations that affect, well, me! Autoimmune disorders are particularly difficult to diagnose and often cause discomfort for those afflicted. We would know, right? The National Institute of Health in the United States estimates that up to 23.5 million Americans suffer from an autoimmune condition.1

My autoimmune experience

As persons with atopic dermatitis, we know all about the pain, inflammation, and discomfort that come with autoimmune conditions, with our shared form of eczema being considered such. For me, my more painful autoimmune experience started in late 2019 when I began to feel pain in my arms. Within 1.5 years, a whole slew of new (and often scary) symptoms emerged. Today I sit diagnosed with multiple autoimmune conditions. My loved ones and I suspect there is more to come.

What does the research say?

In October 2020, medical researchers from Sweden ran a meta-analysis to examine the associations between atopic dermatitis and other autoimmune conditions. The researchers compared 104,832 cases of persons with confirmed atopic dermatitis against 1,022,435 controls. Controls are randomly selected persons or variables that scientists use in clinical trials, studies, and experiments to help create a baseline to measure their results against. This study used data in the Swedish National Health Register on patients 15 years old and up. Interestingly, the control in this study was the ENTIRE population of Sweden!2

The data from the study suggests if you have one autoimmune condition, it is more likely you will receive another autoimmune diagnosis. The likelihood for dual or multi-diagnosis was higher with autoimmune disorders that affect dermatological, gastrointestinal, and connective tissue systems. Conflicting results from this study were found with individuals with certain autoimmune conditions, namely diabetes mellitus type 1, autoimmune thyroiditis, and rheumatoid arthritis.2 While research suggests that atopic dermatitis is associated with other atopic conditions is nothing new, demonstrating that the likelihood of developing a much more dangerous autoimmune condition is higher is significant news.

What does this mean for us?

Now that you know about this research, what can you even do about it? The answer to that is quite simple: Practice mindfulness related to your body and what symptoms it is experiencing. Each autoimmune disease is different in pathology and what type of individual is most likely to develop one.

Autoimmune conditions affect many parts of the body

There are four categories of autoimmune conditions categorized by the part of the body that is MOST affected. They are connective tissue, blood, digestive system, and hormone. I say ‘MOST’ because although individuals may have a blood-based autoimmune diagnosis, their most prevalent symptom could be dermatological. Autoimmune conditions are often multisystemic; they rarely affect only one part of the body. General, ‘across the board’ symptoms can be:

  • Fatigue
  • Joint and muscle swelling (with no known cause)
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon
  • A literal laundry list of skin symptoms
  • Peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage-caused pain)
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Headaches

The list goes on and on. However, I do not want you to let this get you down!

My advice to improve quality of life

There are things you can do to improve your quality of life when diagnosed with multiple autoimmune disorders (or just one):

  • Diet matters. Talk with a trusted healthcare practitioner about what foods/diet plans may work best for you!
  • Move your body.Get as much movement in as you can (unless directed otherwise).
  • Work on the inside too. Often, a life-changing (or in some cases, life-ending) autoimmune diagnosis is the event that creates a ‘before and after’ (before the diagnosis, after the diagnosis). You may be learning what your new normal is, and that can be emotionally and mentally exhausting. If you are in need of support, AtopicDermatitis.net is an excellent example of a place to work on or even just identify the inside stuff.

Let's wrap it all up!

Autoimmune is a word we see a lot of as persons living with atopic dermatitis. With such a variety of symptoms and experiences, it can be easy to feel as if your symptoms will never end or never improve. Take comfort in knowing that research is being done constantly on this type of medical phenomenon, and eczema is not being swept under the rug! The research we covered today is not meant to worry or scare us but to remind us to be mindful of new symptoms we may experience. With a substantially higher rate of developing a secondary immune-affecting condition, we owe it to ourselves to stay informed and ready to tackle whatever comes next! Readers who are dual or multi-diagnosed, let me know in the comments how you cope with symptoms and if you have any lesser-known remedies you have found to work. Until next time! EY.

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