With the growing prevalence of chronic diseases, plan sponsors got a primer on autoimmune conditions, treatment options and the impact they can have on employees at Benefits Canada’s Chronic Disease at Work event on June 22.
Carolyn Whiskin, director of pharmacy programs at Charlton Health, began the conference by explaining that autoimmune diseases are the result of the body’s genetic predisposition in the presence of specific triggers that lead to the overproduction of inflammatory chemicals.
“Once the inflammation process starts, there is no way to shut it down and that predisposition to overproduce inflammation in those tissues remains forever,” she said. “So we need things that are going to control that, because certainly it does affect quality of life.”
Some of the most common autoimmune disorders Whiskin mentioned include Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and uveitis.
Video: A closer look at how several autoimmune conditions work
According to Whiskin, some of the comorbidities that can occur with autoimmune disease include increased risk of infection, cardiovascular disease, depression and developing a second autoimmune condition. Others include decreased sleep quality as well as potential lung, liver and eye complications.
Advanced treatments, said Whiskin, are able to target a specific inflammatory substance related to the autoimmune disease, without removing the inflammatory chemicals that help to fight off infection and heal injury.
“That’s what our most targeted treatments do, which we refer to as biologics,” she said.
Whiskin noted that type of targeted treatment can mean fewer side effects for the patient as it triggers the body’s immune system to get rid of the excess inflammation.
“There’s a window of opportunity with all these diseases,” she said. “If we don’t get aggressive treatments in soon enough, we change the quality of life for that person long term.”