March 4, 2014

Our work and how it all relates...

Arthritis is one of the fastest growing healthcare issues in the nation. An estimated 50 million adults in the United States have some form of arthritis. A 2010 study suggests the number of adults with arthritis is growing by 1 million per year. By 2030, it is estimated that 67 million American adults will have arthritis, in part related to athletic injuries, the aging population, the obesity epidemic and sedentary lifestyles.

The immune system is not directly involved in all of the conditions that are treated by rheumatologists; some conditions are musculoskeletal, such as osteoarthritis.

The immune system is a network of cells, tissues and organs that work together to defend the body against attacks by "foreign" invaders. These are primarily microbes-tiny organisms such as bacteria, parasites and fungi that can cause infections, as well as viruses. It is the immune system's job to keep them out or destroy them when they affect the body.

When the immune system hits the wrong target, it can unleash a number of disorders, including allergic diseases and arthritis . If the immune system is crippled, immunodeficiency diseases can result.

Allergy is the most common disease of the immune system. Asthma and allergies affect 1 out of 5 Americans or 60 million people. Allergy is characterized by an overreaction of the human immune system to a foreign substance, known as an allergen, that has been eaten, breathed into the lungs, injected or touched.

The NIH estimates 23.5 million Americans suffer from autoimmune disease, and that prevalence is rising. Autoimmune disease refers to a group of illnesses that can involve almost every human organ system. In all of these diseases, the underlying problem is that the body's own immune system attacks itself. There are more than 80 diseases that have been identified as autoimmune, including rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren's syndrome, lupus, autoimmune urticaria, celiac disease, psoriatic arthritis and vasculitis.

Outside of musculoskeletal conditions, the immune system is the key factor in how all of these diseases relate to each other and how they are treated. Our physicians at the UNC Rheumatology and UNC Allergy and Immunology Clinics work side-by-side to provide the most comprehensive care for our patients.