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Summary of this article:
– 1 out of 10 individuals in the UK is impacted by a autoimmune disorder
– this finding is way higher than previous estimates
– evidence was found that socioeconomic, seasonal and regional disparities play a role, this means autoimmune disorders don’t solely rely on genetic differences

Groundbreaking research from the University of Oxford uncovers that autoimmune disorders impact 1 in 10 individuals, with 22 million people studied. This finding is significantly higher than previous estimates of three to nine per cent. The study brings together experts from various prestigious institutions and focuses on nineteen common autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, and multiple sclerosis.

Socioeconomic, seasonal, and regional disparities were found, suggesting that modifiable risk factors like smoking, obesity, and stress may contribute to the development of these disorders. Additionally, the research confirms that individuals with one autoimmune disease are more likely to develop a second. The study emphasizes the need for further research to understand the underlying causes and develop targeted interventions to reduce environmental and social risk factors, the university writes in a press release.

Unravelling the Mystery of Autoimmune Disorders

Autoimmune disorders occur when the immune system, which normally defends against infections, mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the body. There are over 80 different types of autoimmune diseases known, and the exact causes, especially regarding the contributions of genetic predisposition or environmental factors, have remained largely a mystery. This has made it difficult to conduct sufficiently large studies and establish reliable estimates to answer these questions.

A consortium of experts in epidemiology, biostatistics, rheumatology, endocrinology, and immunology from KU Leuven, University College London, the University of Glasgow, Imperial College London, Cardiff University, the University of Leicester, and the University of Oxford have come together to address some of these questions. Using anonymized electronic health records from 22 million individuals in the UK, they investigated 19 of the most common autoimmune diseases, examining whether cases are rising over time, who is most affected by these conditions, and how different autoimmune diseases may co-exist with each other.

Surprising Findings and New Patterns

The research showed that the 19 autoimmune diseases studied affect about 10% of the population, with 13% of women and 7% of men impacted. This is much higher than previous estimates, which often relied on smaller sample sizes and included fewer autoimmune conditions. The study also found evidence of socioeconomic, seasonal, and regional disparities among several autoimmune disorders, suggesting that such variations are unlikely to be solely due to genetic differences and may point to the involvement of potentially modifiable risk factors such as smoking, obesity, or stress in the development of some autoimmune diseases.

Furthermore, the research confirmed that in some cases, a person with one autoimmune disease is more likely to develop a second compared to someone without an autoimmune disease. This finding reveals novel patterns that will likely inform the design of further research on possible common causes behind different autoimmune disease presentations. For example, the study discovered that while some autoimmune diseases tended to co-occur more commonly than would be expected by chance or increased surveillance alone, this phenomenon was not generalised across all autoimmune diseases. Multiple sclerosis, for instance, had low rates of co-occurrence with other autoimmune diseases, suggesting a distinct pathophysiology.

Implications and Future Research

First author of the paper, Dr Nathalie Conrad, commented on the significance of the findings: “We observed that some autoimmune diseases tended to co-occur with one another more commonly than would be expected by chance or increased surveillance alone. This could mean that some autoimmune diseases share common risk factors, such as genetic predispositions or environmental triggers. This was particularly visible among rheumatic diseases and among endocrine diseases.”

Senior author Professor Geraldine Cambridge highlighted the importance of the research, stating: “Our study highlights the considerable burden that autoimmune diseases place upon individuals and the wider population. Disentangling the commonalities and differences within this large and varied set of conditions is a complex task. There is a crucial need, therefore, to increase research efforts aimed at understanding the underlying causes of these conditions, which will support the development of targeted interventions to reduce the contribution of environmental and social risk factors.”

As autoimmune disorders continue to impact a significant portion of the population, this pioneering study serves as a stepping stone to better understand the complexities of these conditions and develop targeted prevention measures, ultimately aiming to improve the lives of those affected by these disorders.

Sources Laio used to write this article:
Large-Scale Study Reveals Autoimmune Disorders Now Affect Around One In Ten
Autoimmune disorders found to affect around one in ten people