Most negative situations can be turned around and looked at with a positive mind frame. Walk into any chemotherapy ward and one of the first things patients talk about to fellow patients is having a positive state of mind in the face of some pretty heavy adversity.
It’s understandable; being down and depressed is easy to fall into but it gets us no-where, and it helps no-one else either.
That being said, is it healthy to ignore feelings of dread and bottle it up? I’d argue not, but there’s a line many of us must walk.
Type 1 diabetes and insulin dependant type 2 is relatively unique, in the sense that we manage it ourselves. We are responsible for administering exogenous insulin in the hope the amounts are correct and keep us in a tight target range. Doing this is very difficult given how many factors affect our blood sugars, but we have no choice - our life depends on it.
So what happens when we face a secondary or third autoimmune disease? That balancing act becomes more of a tight rope... blindfolded.
It is a mystery at present as to why this occurs, but roughly 25% of people who have an autoimmune disease will get another. The current best guess is that it’s a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
According to the Benaroya Research institute:
Some diseases carry similar underlying mechanisms, which means when one is triggered, the same response from the body could trigger another.
As a type 1 diabetic, you may be reading this and saying to yourself “that’s just great - having this disease is hard enough” - and you’d be right. But the flip side is that if we have treatment for one autoimmune disease, it may well benefit another given the underlying similarities.
Type 1 diabetes shares a gene that predisposes you to celiac disease and autoimmune thyroiditis (Hashimoto‘s disease) for example.
The pathogenesis of multiple autoimmune disorders is not known. Environmental triggers in a genetically susceptible individual are believed to cause disorders of immune regulation. - ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
When you develop 3 or more autoimmune diseases, this is known as multiple autoimmune syndrome (MAS). It is still very rare but some people can develop up to 5.
I bet you’re so glad you started reading this article aren’t you. Welcome to Believe the hypo - the bearer of bad news.
But as we pointed out at the beginning, life and indeed disease can be looked at in many different ways. Managing one chronic illness is tough; managing more is multitasking (ok, ok. no-one likes to multitask).
Important things to consider
a) Be vigilant with your health. Educate yourself on other related autoimmune diseases and watch for symptoms.
b) Do your due diligence. Stay on top of regular screenings for other autoimmune diseases closely linked with your own.
c) Advise your doctor of your increased risks and ensure they conduct periodic testing.
d) Don’t stress. It’s not inevitable that you’ll develop more than one. Be strict with the management of your primary disease and live your life.
e) Life goes on. Many people live full and amazing lives managing multiple autoimmune diseases.
As we don’t yet know what causes multiple onsets of autoimmune disease, we cannot say if we can do anything to stop or delay development. That being said, we know for sure that by having strict control of your blood sugars and a high percentage of time in target range, you’re dramatically reducing your chances of complications, so this may also minimise the probability of developing multiple autoimmune diseases.
I wouldn’t be running out shouting this from the rafters, but right now, it’s the best chance we have.
In the end, all we can do is all we can do. So don’t stress, live your life and keep striving to be a pro at diabetes.
And to quote the Benaroya Research institute once again:
Progress against one autoimmune disease is progress against them all.
Believe the hypo