Polyglandular Autoimmune Syndrome

Polyglandular Autoimmune Syndrome

A forty-five year old woman who has been relative active and healthy most of her life except for an occasional cold or 'bug' suddenly looses energy at the smallest task. She doesn't sleep well. Her head of thick glossy hair is thinning and her flawless rosy complexion suddenly seems dry and itchy. What is happening here? "I'm beginning to look just like old Aunt Edna!"

Believe it or not, Old Aunt Edna may very well be the key.

Lifestyle plays a major part in how healthy a person is. Drinking lots of water and climbing stairs instead of taking the elevator are common practices in helping to maintain a healthy life. So are eating a balanced diet and getting eight hours of rest each night. But sometimes those healthy regimens are not enough. All humans are also predisposed to hereditary traits.

We get our brown, or red or black hair from our mothers as well as the tendency for hair to thin as we age. Our bone structure may come from Dad or Uncle Harry or Grandpa John or even from Aunt Sue.The genes are a wondrous mix of body types, eye color and temperament, intelligence. Sadly, the genes are not all good. Some of them are nasty little buggers who predispose us to a long list of chronic illnesses.

One commonly listed chronic illness is asthma. If Uncle Mike suffered from asthma chances are someone in another generation or two will also suffer from asthma. High blood pressure, cholesterol imbalances and more debilitating diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, even Downs Syndrome are all linked to genetics.

Recently, scientists have connected a number of these imbalances, more commonly called 'autoimmune disorders' to one specifically inherited syndrome. It is called 'polyglandular autoimmune syndrome' and it involves a large number of the body's organs.

In a nutshell, with autoimmune disorders, the immune system malfunctions and attacks body tissues or organs by mistake. If one has the polyglandular syndrome, they are genetically susceptible to a number of autoimmune disorders, primarily disorders which affect the endocrine system.

The endocrine system consists of the group of glands and organs in our bodies which produce and release hormones necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Among these are the pancreas, the ovaries and testes, thyroid and the adrenal glands.

While this may sound alarming, most all disorders affecting these glands and organs are controllable. None are life-threatening unless they are ignored and it is relatively impossible to ignore muscles aches, weakness, inability to sleep, loss of appetite or fluctuating weight or skin that seems to flake off or hair that grows thinner by the day. Even a hermit would know when his body just is not functioning properly and would do something to counteract the discomfort.

Autoimmune Syndrome

Look at it this way, aching muscles, loss of appetite and general fatigue are the body's way of crying for help, of telling you that something is wrong and you need to pay attention to correct the problem.

Symptoms of polyglandular syndrome may begin in childhood or early adolescence such as Type I (or infantile diabetes).

Hypothyroidism is also a disease that may be present for some time before it is diagnoses.

Types of Polyglandular Autoimmune Syndrome (PAS)

The polyglandular autoimmune syndrome (PAS) occurs when the immune system attacks the endocrine glands and cripples hormone production. There are four different kinds of PAS.

  • Type I Pas generally affects children about 10 or 12 years of age. It may start with chronic yeast infections that progress to the parathyroid and adrenal glands, resulting in hypothyroidism and Addison's disease.
  • Type II PAS occurs in adults. Women are three times more likely to develop the adrenal gland insufficiency. It includes the thyroid (hypothyroidism) and pancreas (Type I diabetes). Pernicious anemia and rheumatoid arthritis are also detected with Type II.
  • Type III PAS primarily affects women in their 30's. It begins with thyroid malfunction and progresses to other autoimmune disorders, including diabetes, pernicious anemia or celiac disease but does not typically include adrenal gland malfunction.
  • Type 4 PAS usually involves two or more autoimmune endocrine diseases and does not follow the typical pattern for the other types of PAS. A person with Type I Diabetes might develop celiac disease without adrenal or thyroid involvement. Type 4 PAS is not as common as the other three PAS disorders.

Type 1 PAS is rare at about 500 cases worldwide. It occurs more frequently in certain populations including Iranian Jews, Sardinians and Finns.

Type II PAS is the most common form of the syndrome and is linked to several gene types. Women having PAS Type II are affected 75% more often than men.

How any type of PAS is diagnosed depends on which autoimmune disorder presents itself first. Treatment is determined by which endocrine glands are affected or which hormone is needed. For instance, a person with Type I Diabetes will need to take insulin; a person with adrenal insufficiency will need cortisol. Someone with Thyroid deficiency will have to take daily doses of the thyroid replacement hormone.

Once these disorders are diagnosed, recovery and living a normal active life will include little more than daily shots or ingested pills along with a healthy diet and routine exercise. Rest will come naturally when the body is fully restored to its normal expectancies.

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