‘Dancing With the Stars’ Judge Carrie Ann Inaba’s Autoimmune Diseases

Talk show host Carrie Ann Inaba is taking a leave of absence as one of the co-hosts of CBS’s “The Talk.” The 53-year-old, who is also one of the judges on “Dancing with the Stars,” said she is stepping away to concentrate on her health. In a post on her website, Carrie Ann Conversations, Inaba talked about how she lives with several autoimmune diseases, including Sjogren’s syndrome, lupus, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, “and I have the markers for antiphospholipid syndrome, which can lead to blood clots.”

“Going through life with an autoimmune condition, or several, like I do, can be a difficult process … When many of us start our health journeys, even if we are fortunate enough to get a diagnosis, we can quickly end up with more questions than answers. Often when it comes to autoimmune conditions there is no perfect solution or clear path forward. Coping with autoimmune conditions can sometimes feel quite lonely. When I first got diagnosed, some encouraged me to keep my struggles to myself, but I’ve found that it’s always been better to be honest about my needs and realities than to stay silent. I believe strongly in sharing my journey, my solutions, and the things that have helped me with anyone who could use it — this is how communities are formed,” she wrote.

Autoimmune Diseases

More than 80 diseases occur as a result of the immune system attacking the body’s own organs, tissues, and cells. Autoimmune diseases can affect almost any part of the body. Some of the more common autoimmune diseases include type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Overall, autoimmune diseases are common, affecting more than 23.5 million Americans. They are a leading cause of death and disability. Some autoimmune diseases are rare, while others, such as Hashimoto’s disease, affect many people.

The causes of autoimmune diseases are unknown; however, studies indicate that these diseases likely result from interactions between genetic and environmental factors.

Although autoimmune diseases can affect anyone, certain people are at greater risk, including:

  • Women of childbearing age — More women than men have autoimmune diseases, which often start during their childbearing years.
  • People with a family history — Some autoimmune diseases run in families, such as lupus and multiple sclerosis. It is also common for different types of autoimmune diseases to affect different members of a single family. Inheriting certain genes can make it more likely to get an autoimmune disease, but a combination of genes and other factors may trigger the disease to start.
  • People who are around certain things in the environment — Certain events or environmental exposures may cause some autoimmune diseases or make them worse. Sunlight, chemicals such as solvents, and viral and bacterial infections are linked to many autoimmune diseases.
  • People of certain races or ethnic backgrounds — Some autoimmune diseases are more common or affect certain groups of people more severely. For instance, type 1 diabetes is more common in white people, while lupus is most severe for Black and Hispanic people.

Most autoimmune diseases cause inflammation. This, in turn, produces redness, heat, pain, and swelling.

Many autoimmune diseases affect more than one part of the body. The symptoms depend on the body part(s) affected, such as:

  • Joints, which can cause joint pain, stiffness, and loss of function
  • Thyroid, which might cause you to be tired, gain weight, or have muscle aches
  • Skin, which can cause rashes, blisters, and color changes

Many autoimmune diseases cause generalized symptoms as well, such as fatigue, dizziness, weight loss or gain, or low-grade fever. Symptoms are often intermittent and may vary in intensity from mild to severe. There may be periods of remission interspersed with flares.

Making a diagnosis of a specific autoimmune disease can be difficult, as many symptoms are the same for other types of health problems. Patients may have been seen by several health specialists over a long period of time before a definitive diagnosis is made.

Sjogren’s syndrome

Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disorder in which immune cells attack and destroy the glands that produce tears and saliva. The hallmark symptoms of the disorder are dry mouth and dry eyes. In addition, Sjogren’s syndrome may cause skin, nose, and vaginal dryness, and may affect other organs of the body, including the kidneys, blood vessels, lungs, liver, pancreas, and brain.

Sjogren’s syndrome affects 1 to 4 million people in the U.S. Most people are older than 40 years old at the time of diagnosis. Women are nine times more likely to have Sjogren’s syndrome than men.

Sjogren’s syndrome can damage vital organs of the body, with symptoms that may remain stable, worsen, or go into remission. Some people may experience only the mild symptoms of dry eyes and mouth, while others go through cycles of good health followed by severe disease. Many patients are able to treat problems symptomatically. Others are forced to cope with blurred vision, constant eye discomfort, recurrent mouth infections, swollen parotid glands, hoarseness, and difficulty in swallowing and eating. Debilitating fatigue and joint pain can seriously impair quality of life.

There is no known cure for Sjogren’s syndrome, nor is there a specific treatment to restore gland secretion. Treatment is generally symptomatic and supportive. Moisture replacement therapies may ease the symptoms of dryness. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may be used to treat musculoskeletal symptoms. For individuals with severe complications, corticosteroids or immunosuppressive drugs may be prescribed.

Antiphospholipid antibody syndrome (APS)

Antiphospholipid antibody syndrome is a disease that causes problems in the inner lining of blood vessels, resulting in blood clots in arteries or veins.

Phospholipids are found in all living cells and cell membranes, including blood cells and the lining of blood vessels. When antibodies attack phospholipids, cells are damaged. This damage causes blood clots to form in the body’s arteries and veins.

It should be noted that some people have APS antibodies, but don’t ever have signs or symptoms of the disorder. Having APS antibodies doesn’t mean that you have APS. To be diagnosed with APS, a patient must have APS antibodies and a history of health problems related to the disorder.

APS can lead to many health problems, such as stroke, heart attack, kidney damage, deep vein thrombosis, and pulmonary embolism. APS can also cause pregnancy-related problems, such as multiple miscarriages, a miscarriage late in pregnancy, stillbirths, or a premature birth due to eclampsia. However, pregnant women who have APS can have successful pregnancies.

People who have APS are at higher risk for thrombocytopenia, in which your blood has a lower-than-normal number of platelets. Antibodies destroy the platelets, or they’re used up during the clotting process. Mild-to-serious bleeding can occur with thrombocytopenia.

APS can be fatal. Death may occur as a result of large blood clots or blood clots in the heart, lungs, or brain. APS is also more common in people who have other autoimmune or rheumatic disorders, such as lupus.

The signs and symptoms of APS are related to abnormal blood clotting. The outcome of a blood clot depends on its size and location.

Major signs and symptoms of blood clots include:

  • Chest pain and shortness of breath
  • Pain, redness, warmth, and swelling in the limbs
  • Ongoing headaches
  • Speech changes
  • Upper body discomfort in the arms, back, neck, and jaw
  • Nausea

Michele R. Berman, MD, and Mark S. Boguski, MD, PhD, are a wife-and-husband team of physicians who have trained and taught at some of the top medical schools in the country, including Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Washington University in St. Louis. Their mission is both journalistic and educational: to report on common diseases affecting uncommon people and summarize the evidence-based medicine behind the headlines.

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