by Erica Fiorini
In this article you will read about Chiara’s rare condition, the Takayasu’s arteritis. You will discover how difficult it is to get a conclusive diagnosis when there is a rare disease at stake.
Takayasu’s arteritis (TA) is a rare disease consisting in a form of large vessel granulomatous vasculitis, an inflammation of the blood vessels. It’s also called “pulseless disease” because it causes blockages of large arteries of the neck and arm, leading to pulses that cannot be felt, a normal condition in people who suffer from low blood pressure. TA has a preference for the aorta and its branches (see Figure).
Phagocytes are a type of cell in the immune system that protect the body, engulf, and destroy harmful foreign particles, bacteria, and dead or dying cells, and with the case of TA, they are unable to perform their normal function. In patients affected by TA, the phagocytes also attack the body itself because they wrongly recognize it as foreign.
Due to its symptoms, which can range from fever to ischemic symptoms (absence of blood flux to tissues), this disease is often misdiagnosed. In addition most of the subjects start to show signs indicating TA between the 15-30 years old.
“For me it was a tragedy. It was like a doom.” – Chiara
I had the chance to interview a young woman affected by this disease. Chiara is 38 years old and discovered only at the end of 2014 to be affected by TA. “I had two months of physical exhaustion, cough, night fever, joint pain, fatigue. But this is not sufficiently exhaustive to explain the physical fatigue that I had.” Her doctors said that she should consider herself very fortunate to have received such a fast diagnosis. TA is very difficult to detect and cure and meanwhile the disease continues to damage the body.
Unfortunately she didn’t receive any information from the doctor about TA and “in the following months I fell into the trap of reading on the internet about the disease. I did read about extreme negative cases. For me it was a tragedy. Literally a tragedy. It was like a doom. Then I actually realized that having a diagnosis and a house are two big advantages.”
Mostly women are affected by this condition and its origin is still unknown. Moreover, it is most prevalent in Far East Asia, India, and Mexico. Scientists are working to discover the genetic origin of TA which will lead to a better understand of the illness mechanism and to develop therapies to more effectively treat it. Until now, genetic variants have been found in the HLA (human leukocyte antigen) region.
Chiara lives in Reggio Nell’Emilia (Italy), where the Rheumatology Department of the Santa Maria Hospital is specialized in this field and a reference point in Italy for vasculitis thanks to Professor Carlo Salvarani. More informations on http://www.vasculitisfoundation.org/.
The Italian health system covers “a very expensive biological drug, Humira: 4 shots for 2.000€ ($2,200). I need 2 shots per month.” Adalimumab, sold with the name Humira (human monoclonal antibody in rheumatoid arthritis), is a medication used for rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and many other autoimmune diseases. Humira binds to a receptor known as TNFα which thus blocks the inflammatory response of some autoimmune diseases.
Chiara’s life changed a lot even if the doctors told her to have a “normal” existence. She feels more tired compared to other 38 year old woman and often she is not able to play sports. She pays attention to her diet, but nevertheless she did gain 6/7 kg due to the cortisone shots that she also receives in addition to Humira.
“What I really care about is the possibility to have another child, but as long the disease is not in remission I can’t as it would be a pregnancy with many risks.”
Every two months Chiara has to undergo a series of tests and once a year she has to stay a whole day at the hospital for a complete check-up. “It’s hard to work full-time, but I do it anyway. I won’t give up! I try to live with less anxiety. Stress influences the immune system negatively, and is it true?!”
While surfing the Internet, I stumbled upon the history of Elain. On her Facebook page she describes the history, development, and achievements in the treatment of her TA. She wrote me a brief summary of her condition.
“It has been a life changing disease,” and she has not been able to work for a year now. Moreover the steroids gave her diabetes mellitus type 2, so she has to take insulin too. “I am pleased to help if I can because I have not spoken to anyone else with this as its very rare over here”
In September 2016, the FDA approved Amjevita (Adalimumab-atto), a biosimilar to Humira as the patent life for Humira has expired. Biosimilar is the term given to generic versions of biological products. Biological products consist of proteins, antibodies, and peptides. Amjevita is produced by another company and its competition to Humira should lower the cost of treatment.
About me – I’m from Italy and I moved to Zurich at the end of 2011 in order to do a PhD at the University of Zurich. I’m currently collaborating with CheckOrphan since November 2016.
If you would like to tell me your experience, help other people, or to enter in contact with Chiara please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.