Dr. Sagar Bhattad, Consultant – Paediatric Immunology & Rheumatology, Aster RV Hospital
Children fall sick regularly. As they grow up, start going to school and have exposure to other kids and new environments, sickness becomes a regular feature. The child falls sick, you take them to the doctor, follow the instructions and they get better. Sadly, it is not this simple for autoimmune diseases. Has your child been recently diagnosed with an autoimmune disease? Don’t know what to do or not do? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
Everyone falls sick. There is nothing new or alarming about that. It is concerning when the condition gets severe or has no cure. And when a child is diagnosed with something serious, the parents’ world comes crashing down. They don’t know what to do, what not to do, how to take care of the child, which doctor to see next and the list is never-ending, just like the disease itself.
What are Autoimmune Diseases?
An autoimmune disease is where the immune system malfunctions and attacks the body instead of protecting it. The immune system mistakes the healthy cells to be infections or foreign invaders and attacks them., So, the immune system keeps fighting the body and destroying the healthy cells, instead of protecting them.
The exact reason or cause for autoimmune diseases are still unknown. A lot of research is going into finding the cause behind the various autoimmune diseases. These diseases can either be genetic or due to environmental exposure. Sometimes, an environmental factor can trigger the underlying autoimmune disease if the child has inherited a defective gene.
As a parent, it is important to remember that autoimmune diseases are not communicable, meaning you cannot get them because someone you stay with or someone in contact with you has a disease.
What happens when a child has an autoimmune disease?
When a child is diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, the best possible treatment is started immediately. Autoimmune diseases can cause severe damage to the organs in the body, so treating them or controlling them at the earliest is very important. With proper treatment and constant monitoring, the child can live a regular life with minimal restrictions.
Who is at risk of Autoimmune Disease?
The autoimmune disease generally runs in families. There are cases where someone with absolutely no family history of the disease can be diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. Here are some risk factors which can increase the chances of an individual developing an autoimmune disease:
- Genes – Every human receives 2 sets of genes. When one of the parents or their parents has an autoimmune disease, there are high chances for them to pass down this defective gene. While one might have a defective gene, it is not necessary for them to have the disease. It only increases their risk.
- Weight – Your weight can sometimes play havoc with your system. It can add pressure to your joints, leading to chronic joint pains or arthritis, and can also cause some organs to malfunction.
- Age – Autoimmune diseases are prone to affect younger people than older people. It can affect children too.
- Race – Certain races and ethnicities are more prone to some autoimmune diseases than others. The reason is not very clear but it is connected to genetics.
- Gender – Many autoimmune diseases affect girls more than boys
- Medicines – Certain medications can trigger the underlying defective gene in the body. As a result, one might develop an autoimmune disease that has otherwise been dormant until the medicine interfered.
- Other Diseases – an existing autoimmune disease increases the risk of developing another related autoimmune disease.
Can Autoimmune Disease Be Prevented?
Sadly, no. An autoimmune disease is one where the cause is unknown. When you are not sure about the cause of a disease or when it can affect the child, you cannot prevent it effectively. It is not advisable to treat something that has not occurred yet.
Even in the case of genetic health issues where the chances of a child contracting an autoimmune disease are high, you cannot prevent it completely. Doctors might prescribe certain medicines or treatments for the mother-to-be, but this can only reduce the chances of the disease passing on to the child.
An autoimmune disease can be very difficult to live with. However, with the right diagnosis and timely treatment, you can work on reducing the impact of the disease and help the child lead a close to normal life. The advancement of science and technology has enabled children with autoimmune diseases to enjoy their childhood, without much of a compromise.