These syndromes can be very confusing for family, friends, coworkers, teachers, and others to comprehend. This is understandable because some affected patients with certain periodic fever syndromes (autoinflammatory diseases) may have periods of near-perfect health between flares, may not have visible symptoms, and the symptoms mimic infectious diseases.
Here are some answers to common questions so you can better understand how someone you know is affected by their autoinflammatory disease.
Are any of the symptoms, such as fever, rash, or vomiting contagious?
No, these diseases and the symptoms are not in any way contagious. The symptoms, such as fever, rash, and/or joint pain, are a result of genetic mutations that cause an innate malfunction in the immune system. The person’s immune system is causing the symptoms, not a virus, bacteria, or other infectious agent. To learn more, click here.
So they will outgrow this, right?
For most, the answer is sadly, “No.” Most autoinflammatory diseases are lifelong conditions. The majority of these diseases start in infancy or early childhood, but a few patients, or a few diseases do not have symptoms until adulthood. As these are caused by genetic mutations in most cases (or believed to be genetic, but the mutation(s) have not yet discovered), you cannot get rid of these syndromes from your body.
One exception to this is PFAPA.
Most children with PFAPA will outgrow it by their teens. Keep in mind that even though they may outgrow it, PFAPA is still a debilitating disease for children who suffer from it.
In some diseases, such as HIDS, the episodes of flares may be less frequent in adulthood. Some patients with TRAPS, and a few other conditions like CRMO may have longer periods between flares.
But some patients with autoinflammatory diseases can have more frequent episodes or more severe symptoms as adults. The damaging effects of chronic inflammation that is involved in some systemic autoinflammatory diseases over decades can lead to debilitating, and damaging effects, depending on the disease, but this can include: secondary amyloidosis, hearing loss, joint damage, and more.
But they look healthy now – are these “real” diseases?
These diseases are very real and recognized by leading medical professionals and researchers from all over the world. The person may not have visible symptoms, but the pain, fatigue, fever, and other symptoms are very real, and often very severe and debilitating. In addition, patients or families with a child with one of these diseases may not be out and about while during flares, so you may only be seeing them on their “good days.”
The common link with all of these syndromes is that the inflammatory process in the immune system is out of control. These means they can have severe inflammation anywhere in their body, from their skin and muscles to their vital organs.
In many of these conditions, especially the periodic fever syndromes PFAPA, FMF, TRAPS, and HIDS, patients may have periods that last days to weeks where they are healthy and mostly symptom free. However, when a flare starts, the symptoms can come on very quickly. Patients who were 100% fine a few hours ago may now be unable to get out of bed or function in their daily life.
Are they caused by the environment, diet, or lifestyle of the patient or parents?
No, these genetic mutations are not caused by any external factors. Likewise, diet or lifestyle cannot fix the mutation causing the symptoms. Many patients with certain autoinflammatory diseses realize that this disease has affected their family for generations.
Some patients may have gastrointestinal symptoms as part of their autoinflammatory disease and do find some relief with certain diets, but it does not cure them of their disease.
If you want to learn more about autoinflammatory diseases in general, please visit the Autoinflammatory Alliance website.
*Top photo by stari/Bigstockphoto.com