Newswise — Eastpointe, MI – June 20, 2012: There is a disturbing trend in autoimmune disease diagnosis; many are on the upswing. Recent reports show that type 1 diabetes (an autoimmune disease not related to obesity), celiac disease and lupus, among others autoimmune diseases, are all being diagnosed at rapid rates.

The American Diabetes Association reported a 23 percent rise in type 1 diabetes over an eight-year period that ended in 2009. A similar increase has been found in Finland. Center for Disease Control researchers are unclear as to why autoimmune diseases are surging. Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes, occurs when the body loses the ability to produce insulin due to an autoimmune attack on the cells that produce insulin. Insulin is the hormone that controls the level of sugar in the blood. Type 1 diabetics are insulin dependent while type 2 diabetics in many cases can manage the disease with changes to diet and exercise.

The study found that children and adolescents with type 1 diabetes have measurable signs of complications including nerve damage that could lead to amputations. It also identified early signs of cardiovascular damage raising risks for future heart disease. Research has also shown that the cause of autoimmune disease stems from genetics and environmental factors.

“With the rapid increase in autoimmune diseases, it clearly suggests that environmental factors are at play due to the significant increase in these diseases. Genes do not change in such a short period of time,” says Virginia T. Ladd, President and Executive Director of the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA). She goes on to label the current state of autoimmune disease an epidemic that should be of great concern to the government and health professionals.

Another example is the increase in the number of people with the autoimmune disorder celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes the body's immune system to attack the small intestine, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center. A recent report suggests that the disease is now believed to affect one in every 133 U.S. residents. Those affected have an autoimmune response to gluten, a protein found in such grains as wheat, rye and barley.

Dr. Frederick Miller of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences agrees with Ladd. He also believes that the surge in autoimmune disease diagnosis likely stems from an individual’s surroundings.

“The best way to combat the rise in autoimmune diseases is to do research to understand the genetic and environmental risk factors for them, so that those who are at highest risk for developing disease after certain environmental exposures might be able to minimize those exposures and prevent the development of autoimmune disease,” says Miller.

About AARDA AARDA is the only national nonprofit health agency dedicated to bringing a national focus to autoimmunity, the major cause of serious chronic diseases. Approximately 50 million Americans, 20 percent of the population or one in five people, suffer from autoimmune diseases. Women are more likely than men to be affected; some estimates say that 75 percent of those affected--some 30 million people--are women. Still, with these statistics, autoimmunity is rarely discussed as a women's health issue.