WESTPORT, Sep 05 (Reuters Health) - Autoimmune diseases are among the 10 leading causes of death in women in the US under the age of 65 years, researchers in Farmington, Connecticut, have found.
Current methods to identify leading causes of death exclude autoimmune diseases from consideration or aggregate them with nonautoimmune diseases, obscuring their large toll on mortality, the investigators explain. Further complicating the issue is the fact that many autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma, are often listed among contributing causes, rather than the underlying cause of death.
Dr. Stephen J. Walsh and Laurie M. Rau, from the University of Connecticut Health Center, compared the frequency of autoimmune disease deaths with counts from the 1995 National Center for Health Statistics' 10 leading causes of death.
Diseases of interest included autoimmune hemolytic anemia, glomerulonephritis, multiple sclerosis, myocarditis, scleroderma, Addison disease, and type I diabetes mellitus. Altogether, deaths from 24 autoimmune diseases were quantified.
"I was stunned when I saw the tallies," Dr. Walsh told Reuters Health. "I thought, this can't be right, but it turned out it is."
Autoimmune diseases were at least the eighth leading cause of death for women 15 to 64 years of age, and exceeded the tenth listed leading cause for all females under the age of 65 years.
"We need some type of regional or national registry system for identifying people with autoimmune disease," Dr. Walsh said. In fact, he said, the National Environmental Health Sciences Institute in 1998 issued a consensus statement in which such a surveillance system was listed as a high priority research need.
A surveillance system would provide "greater opportunity to pool cases of autoimmune disease across different universities or hospitals and conduct more definitive studies of cause or treatment," Dr. Walsh concluded.
Am J Public Health 2000;90:1463-1466.