Skip to content

    Women's Health

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Fighting a Mysterious Disease

    Misdiagnosed and Misunderstood
    By
    WebMD Feature

    Aug. 22, 2001 -- Two years ago, actress Kellie Martin's 19-year-old sister Heather suddenly began to suffer from fatigue, an odd skin rash, and a slew of unexplainable health problems. Her symptoms stumped doctor after doctor. The doctors diagnosed her with one illness, then a different one, then yet another, as Heather's friends and family watched the formerly healthy teen become gravely ill.

    The doctors couldn't reach a consensus on Heather's ailment. "They would stand out in the hall and argue about what the best way to treat her was," says Martin. "In the meantime, Heather was getting weaker and sicker. It was infuriating." Finally a doctor diagnosed Heather with systemic lupus erythematosus, also called lupus.

    Recommended Related to Women

    10 Small Changes with Big Health Payoffs

    By Sarah JioSee why minor lifestyle tweaks can make a major difference for your overall well-being   Does it ever feel like you have to spend hours and hours at the gym, change your diet dramatically or jump way out of your comfort zone to reap any rewards in the health department? Think again. Our experts say that these small changes can have significant health payoffs. 1. Floss more often. According to Robert Emami, DDS, chief of staff at Dental Specialties, a multispecialty practice...

    Read the 10 Small Changes with Big Health Payoffs article > >

    With lupus, like other autoimmune illnesses, the patient's immune system goes into overdrive and mistakenly attacks the body it is designed to protect. In Heather's case, her body was killing her own kidneys and other vital organs, mistaking them for foreign objects.

    Though Heather's disease might seem unusual, 50 million Americans -- 75% of them women -- suffer from autoimmune disorders, according to Virginia Ladd, president and founder of the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association Inc., or AARDA. Because of the threat these illnesses pose to women's health worldwide, the AARDA is currently working with both the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women and the World Health Organization to have autoimmune disorders declared a major women's health concern.

    Misunderstood and Misdiagnosed

    Autoimmune diseases are illnesses of the unknown -- the body attacks itself, the illnesses are often repeatedly misdiagnosed, and effective treatments are few, even after doctors do figure out what's wrong. The 80 or so recognized autoimmune illnesses range from those that are commonly known, like diabetes, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis, to the unfamiliar, including Hashimoto's thyroiditis -- a chronic inflammation of the thyroid gland -- and pemphigus vulgaris, a skin disease where blisters form on the mouth and scalp.

    "Women usually have to see five or six doctors before they find someone who can tell them what they have," Ladd says. But once diagnosed, no one doctor treats the disease. Instead, various specialists treat the illness symptom by symptom. Ladd hopes that soon a specialist called an "autoimmunologist" will emerge to treat the scattered group of autoimmune diseases as a whole.

    1 | 2 | 3

    Today on WebMD

    hands on abdomen
    Test your knowledge.
    womans hand on abdomen
    Are you ready for baby?
     
    birth control pills
    Learn about your options.
    insomnia
    Is it menopause or something else?
     
    woman in bathtub
    Slideshow
    period
    VIDEO
     
    bp app on smartwatch and phone
    Slideshow
    estrogen gene
    Quiz
     

    Send yourself a link to download the app.

    Loading ...

    Please wait...

    This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

    Thanks!

    Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

    Blood pressure check
    Slideshow
    hot water bottle on stomach
    Quiz
     
    question
    Assessment
    Attractive young woman standing in front of mirror
    Quiz