Population-based study reveals autoimmune disorders affect 1 in 10 individuals, uncovering socioeconomic and regional disparities

A recently published study in The Lancet has shed new light on the prevalence and characteristics of autoimmune disorders. The research, conducted by a consortium of experts from various renowned institutions, analyzed electronic health records from a staggering 22 million individuals in the United Kingdom. By examining 19 of the most common autoimmune diseases, the study aimed to provide a comprehensive understanding of these conditions.

The findings revealed that autoimmune diseases collectively affect approximately 10% of the population, with 13% of women and 7% of men being affected. These figures surpass previous estimates, which ranged from 3% to 9% and were based on smaller sample sizes and fewer autoimmune conditions.

Moreover, the study unveiled notable socioeconomic, seasonal, and regional disparities in the prevalence of certain autoimmune disorders. The authors suggested that genetic differences alone cannot account for these variations, implying the involvement of modifiable risk factors such as smoking, obesity, and stress in the development of these diseases.

Additionally, the research confirmed that individuals with one autoimmune disease are more likely to develop a second compared to those without any autoimmune conditions. These findings present intriguing patterns that could shape future investigations into common factors underlying distinct presentations of autoimmune diseases.

The study’s comprehensive dataset and robust methodology provide valuable insights into the growing impact of autoimmune disorders. It highlights the need for further research to elucidate the causes and mechanisms of these diseases, considering both genetic predisposition and environmental factors. The findings underscore the significance of addressing potential risk factors and developing targeted interventions to mitigate the burden of autoimmune disorders on individuals and society.

Dr. Nathalie Conrad, the lead author of the paper from the University of Oxford’s Deep Medicine, commented on the study’s findings. She noted that certain autoimmune diseases exhibited a higher tendency to co-occur than would be expected by chance or increased surveillance alone. This suggests the existence of common risk factors like genetic predispositions or environmental triggers. Such patterns were particularly prominent among rheumatic and endocrine diseases. However, the phenomenon of co-occurrence was not observed uniformly across all autoimmune diseases, with multiple sclerosis standing out due to its low rates of co-occurrence, indicating a distinct underlying pathophysiology.

Dr. Nathalie Conrad is associated with KU Leuven and the University of Glasgow as well.

Professor Geraldine Cambridge, the senior author of the paper from University College London, emphasized the substantial burden imposed by autoimmune diseases on individuals and society as a whole. Given the complexity and diversity of these conditions, she stressed the need for increased research efforts to unravel their commonalities and differences. Understanding the underlying causes of autoimmune diseases would pave the way for targeted interventions that mitigate the impact of environmental and social risk factors.

The study, titled “Incidence, prevalence, and co-occurrence of autoimmune disorders over time and by age, sex, and socioeconomic status: a population-based cohort study of 22 million individuals in the UK,” has been published in The Lancet.

Source: University of Oxford

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