"It can take a person an average of five years and five doctors to get diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, according to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA) - despite the fact that some 50 million Americans suffer from one. Autoimmunity is now one of the most common disease categories, ahead of cancer and heart disease.
And while rates of the latter are falling, autoimmune diseases are being diagnosed with such frequency that some medical experts are calling it an epidemic."
"There's still a lot of mystery associated with autoimmune disease," says Kathleen Gilbert, an immunologist and retired professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system turns on itself and attacks the body's own cells and tissues.
Beyond that, however, there's little consensus on why this happens, what can be done to stop it, or even what diseases can be classified as autoimmune.
Researchers largely assume that the cause of the rise can be pinpointed to changes in our environment, which in turn are causing changes in our bodies. Over the past 100 years, humanity has drastically altered the way we lived for the majority of existence."