Health-care pros tell us their patients' most-asked questions. This issue, our experts talk about autoimmune diseases and lifestyle-related illnesses.
Q: What are autoimmune diseases? Who gets them?
Dr. Jacqueline Hochman, rheumatologist at Women's College Hospital in Toronto says:
When the immune system mistakenly attacks our own tissues, it can result in tissue inflammation and damage, causing symptoms and signs of what's called an autoimmune disease. There are many types of autoimmune diseases that affect various parts of the body and people of different ages. For example, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease of the joints, and multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease of the neurological system. In general, risk increases if you have relatives with an autoimmune disease; specific factors vary across disorders. Diagnosis begins with assessment by your family doctor, who may request blood work and imaging before referring you to a specialist. Although treatments can't cure autoimmune diseases, medications can help control symptoms, especially when complemented by lifestyle modifications, such as increasing physical activity, following a healthy diet and getting enough good sleep.
Q: What are lifestyle-related illnesses and how can I modify my risk factors?
Jessica Bawden, nurse practitioner, family practice health centre at the Women's College Hospital in Toronto says:
These are illnesses that occur or worsen because of poor lifestyle choices, including the food you eat, how active you are or whether you smoke. Hypertension is an example of a lifestyle-related illness; so are obesity and Type 2 diabetes, which is most often seen in overweight people. By incorporating positive approaches, people can see and feel improvements in their health and decrease the likelihood of developing these conditions. Risk factors for diseases can be modified by maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise; avoiding smoking; limiting alcohol consumption; managing stress; and following sleep-hygiene strategies. There are endless benefits to adopting a healthy lifestyle; for instance, planned, purposeful and repeated physical activity can help prevent cardiac events and provide modest protection from cancers. In addition, a sedentary lifestyle may be a stronger cause of mortality than smoking.