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Inherited Disorders and Birth Defects

Autoimmune Disease or Anxiety Problem

05/31/2007

Question:

My daughter is 10 years old, and I`m concerned regarding her risks of developing an autoimmune disease. I have ulcerative colitis, her father has diabetes type 1 and her grandmother and aunt (father`s side) have thyroid disorders.

I have always known that my daughter has an increased risk of developing an autoimmune disease but is this something I should really be concerned about?

Does my child have a much higher risk of inherting an autoimmune disorder since it runs on both sides of her family (although, Im the only one on my side of the family with an autoimmune disease).

I am a bit of a "control freak" and it drives me crazy that there is nothing I can do to stop my child from developing one of these diseases. I`ve always been a person that worries excessively and lately the worry is focused on my childs health. I have this absolute fear that my child will become sick and there is nothing I can do about it. It seems as though I cant "switch off" these feelings of fear and it interferes with my daily life.

So there seems to be two problems here, my daughters risk of developing an autoimmune disease and my anxiety issues regarding her health.

I live in South Africa, and we dont have any Genetic Councillors in our town. (If we did, my daughter would be there today)

So, I think my question is that, should I focus more on treating my "anxiety issues" or should I really be concerned about my childs risk of developing an autoimmune disease?

Answer:

As you know, the immune system normally helps fight off infections and other toxic exposures by producing lymphocytes to attack the exposure. If a person’s own lymphocytes react against its own body that is called an autoimmune reaction. Usually lymphocytes are suppressed until needed. While some autoimmunity occurs naturally in everyone, it does not usually result in diseases. Autoimmune diseases happen when the normal processes are disturbed and lymphocyte control is not normal - this allows the lymphocytes to no longer recognize the body as itself and instead, attacks the body. This leads to a whole list of diseases.

It is now well established that for some families, there is a strong genetic predisposition to develop an autoimmune disorder such as in your family. However, it is complex inheritance - that is, there is not just one gene that causes these diseases, but many and they interact with the environment (such as bacteria, viruses, toxins, and some drugs ) to actually cause disease. This also means that not everyone who inherits a predisposition will actually develop any of these disorders. It is very difficult to find any specific figures as to what your daughter’s chance would be to develop any of the disorders that are in your family. She is at increased risk; however, there is no specific number to give you.

While it is helpful to know that your daughter has a higher chance to develop some type of autoimmune disorder, and thus her doctor can be on the lookout for problems should they come up, it would be more beneficial to both your daughter’s and your mental health, if you did not constantly worry and make a “big deal” out of this potential. You do not want to make her “feel ill” when she is healthy. You might want to talk to talk to your doctor or a mental health counselor about your anxiety; they should be able to give you some ideas of ways to cope better. This can only be helpful to your daughter

The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association has some very good information about autoimmune disorders.

Related Resources:

American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association

For more information:

Go to the Inherited Disorders and Birth Defects health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Anne   Matthews, RN, PhD Anne Matthews, RN, PhD
Associate Professor of Genetics
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University