Appearance of Health and Vitality Can Shroud Autoimmune Diseases in Men

  • newswise-fullscreen Appearance of Health and Vitality Can Shroud Autoimmune Diseases in Men

    Image of health and vitality can sometimes hinder diagnosis of autoimmune diseases.

Newswise — The recent report out of the Annals of Internal Medicine profiling President John F. Kennedy’s autoimmune disease surprised many Americans due to his appearance throughout his presidency of health and vitality. However, those who study autoimmune diseases know that the outward manifestation of many autoimmune diseases can often lead the public to believe that the person suffering is perfectly healthy. It is this outward appearance of health that is one of the major barriers for patients who suffer from autoimmune diseases to obtain a proper diagnosis. A study by the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA) showed that typically it take an autoimmune patient four years and visits with upwards of four physicians to obtain a proper diagnosis and begin treatment.

President Kennedy is not the only popular public figure to have suffered from autoimmune diseases largely in silence. For example, men such as former President George H.W. Bush suffers from Graves’ disease, a glandular autoimmune disease affecting the thyroid gland. In addition, Fox Business News anchor Neil Cavuto, the late comedian and actor Bernie Mac, and Poison lead singer and reality television star Bret Michaels, as well as Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Bobby Engram all developed some form of autoimmune disease. Although, typically autoimmune diseases affect women more often than men, with some ratios, such as in the case of lupus as high as 9:1, it is clear that men, too, get autoimmune diseases.

Autoimmune disease patients who outwardly appear to be fine but are battling daily limitations involved with chronic illness such as fatigue, muscle weakness, and chronic pain can often encounter difficulties on the job, as well as with friends and family. A recent comment from a patient on AARDA’s Autoimmunity Forum exemplifies these problems: “In alot of cases those with autoimmune look healthy. So, those people around them who may not fully understand the nature of each particular illness think that they are lazy or crazy. Even doctors treat you like you are a hypochondriac. All of this makes those with autoimmune feel like they are nuts. Families and friends do not understand why you can't sleep, or why you are so tired. You hear things like ‘if you would just do this or do that...’ but all that does it make you feel worse because you know you have very little control over this illness that has taken over your WHOLE LIFE!!”

In the same AARDA study that determined how difficult it is to obtain a diagnosis, it was also found that patients were often told that they were chronic complainers or too concerned with their health.

While the statistics do indicate that this is a major women’s health issue, the current report surrounding President Kennedy’s autoimmune problems highlight the fact that women’s propensity for autoimmune diseases is not the whole story. According to Virginia T. Ladd, President and Executive Director of the AARDA, “Men, too, can get autoimmune diseases; and when men do acquire an autoimmune disease, it is often found that they have a more severe case of that disease. It is because of this that we at AARDA launched our “Men Get Autoimmune Diseases, Too” campaign in 2008. We wanted to ensure that (1) men who began having symptoms would think to consider autoimmune diseases as a possibility and would have the knowledge to express their concern with a primary care physician -- even if they have the outward appearance of perfect health. (2) Additionally, we wanted to ensure that men know that autoimmune diseases have a genetic component in that they tend to cluster in families, meaning that if your mother has lupus, your cousin has Addison’s disease, and your great-grandfather suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, then you could be at higher risk.”

There are more than 80 diseases that are currently classified as autoimmune, of which ankylosing spondylitis, type 1 diabetes, Wegener’s granulomatosis, and psoriasis have been shown just as likely to develop in men as in women. For more information about autoimmune diseases, contact AARDA on the Web at or by phone at 586-776-3900.

About the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA)

The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association is dedicated to the eradication of autoimmune diseases and the alleviation of suffering and the socioeconomic impact of autoimmunity through fostering and facilitating collaboration in the areas of education, public awareness, research, and patient services in an effective, ethical and efficient manner.

AARDA is the only national nonprofit health agency dedicated to bringing a national focus to autoimmunity, the major cause of serious chronic diseases. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) 23.5 million Americans suffer from one of the more than 80 diseases classified as autoimmune. Women are more likely than men to be affected; estimates say that 75 percent of those affected are women.

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