New York, NY—March 1, 1999
Imagine waking up one morning and feeling achy all over. As days pass, the achiness doesn’t go away, and you begin to feel tired, too. Your doctor can’t tell you exactly what’s wrong. So you go to a specialist, but the cause of your symptoms remains a mystery.
Dr. Michael Lockshin, director of The Barbara Volcker Center for Women and Rheumatic Disease at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, says the culprit is often an autoimmune disorder. Patients go from doctor to doctor, often for many months, until they are finally diagnosed with one of about 80 chronic illnesses that fall into the cateogory of rheumatic, or autoimmune, diseases. "You cannot underestimate the impact these disorders have on patients, 75 percent of whom are women," Lockshin notes. "The pain and other symptoms are compounded by the fact that they are often told it’s in their head."
Autoimmune diseases affect more than 12 million Americans and usually strike without warning. They include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and scleroderma, as well as a host of other ailments. Although these disorders are not well understood, what doctors do know is that the immune system -- the very mechanism designed to protect the body against disease -- turns on itself, attacking the joints, skin or other organs at random.
Still, it isn’t all bad news. Lockshin says that while there is no cure, researchers have made great strides in keeping symptoms in check with new medications, such as Enbrel to treat rheumatoid arthritis.
Lockshin, a rheumatologist who has become known as a champion of women’s health issues, recently testified before Congress to raise awareness and increase funding for research into autoimmune diseases. While acknowledging the importance of research, he never loses sight of the patient. In his book, Guarded Prognosis, Lockshin discusses the physical and psychological toll of chronic disease and argues for compassion for the patient who must navigate an increasingly complex health care system. His colleagues chose him as one of the top ten researchers in women’s health in a survey that appeared in a popular women’s magazine.
At a recent two-day conference entitled "Gender, Biology and Human Disease" at the Hospital for Special Surgery, dozens of experts from around the country discussed why women are more susceptible to certain diseases. "It was always thought that hormones were responsible," he explains. "There’s going to be an explosion of new ways to look at gender and disease that have never been considered before. And we’ll probably find that hormones are only a small piece of the puzzle." Lockshin says researchers are investigating how other factors, such as genetics, pregnancy and infection may play a role in triggering autoimmune diseases. Once scientists gain a better understanding of what causes these disorders, they can improve diagnosis and treatment and maybe find a cure.
About Hospital for Special Surgery
Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) is the world’s largest academic medical center focused on musculoskeletal health. HSS is nationally ranked No. 1 in orthopedics and No. 2 in rheumatology by U.S. News & World Report (2016-2017), and is the first hospital in New York State to receive Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Service from the American Nurses Credentialing Center four consecutive times. HSS has one of the lowest infection rates in the country. HSS is an affiliate of Weill Cornell Medical College and as such all Hospital for Special Surgery medical staff are faculty of Weill Cornell. The hospital's research division is internationally recognized as a leader in the investigation of musculoskeletal and autoimmune diseases. Hospital for Special Surgery is located in New York City and online at www.hss.edu.