A year ago this week, I started writing regular posts about mast cell disease and chronic illness. In honor of Rare Disease Day, the last day of February, I decided to put up short posts on Facebook daily for the remaining days of February. I could not have predicted that this would eventually give way to a website that is visited thousands of times a month by people all over the world.
I wanted to write a post about having a rare disease and what it meant to be a rare patient, but I have actually been too busy dealing with my rare disease to do it. This week, it occurred to me that I actually have multiple rare diseases. Today, I learned that four of my diagnoses are classified as rare diseases in the US. I have four individual rare diseases. This is not uncommon for mast cell patients.
In the US, any disease that affects less than 200,000 at one time is considered rare. These diseases can be infectious diseases, cancers, genetic disorders, autoimmune diseases, and so on. Rare diseases are defined differently by different countries and organizations. Likewise, a disease can be rare in one region and common in another.
There are over 7000 known rare diseases. Worldwide, they affect 300,000,000 people. In the US, they affect 25,000,000. If all rare diseases live together in one country, it would be the third most populous country in the world.
Almost 10% of the American population has at least one rare disease. 2/3 of Americans living with rare disease are children. Currently, only 350 rare diseases have an FDA approved treatment. This means that most of the medications we use are not designed for us and we don’t know how they will affect us.
Almost half of primary care physicians in the US say they feel uncomfortable with taking on a rare disease patient. It can take us up to six years to receive a correct diagnosis. Some people are never diagnosed.
80% of rare disease patients have one of 350 rare diseases, with the rest being significantly more rare. Mastocytosis is not one of those 350 diseases.
My name is Lisa Klimas. I am 31 years old and I live with four rare diseases.
Mast cell disease causes severe allergic reactions to things I am not actually allergic to.
Ehlers Danlos Syndrome causes hernias, joint instability, and poor wound healing.
Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome causes dysregulation of blood pressure and heart rate.
Mixed connective tissue disease causes autoimmune activity against various tissues in my body.
All of these conditions are chronic, incurable, and painful. Together they can cause life threatening complications.
February 28th is Rare Disease Day. For many people, it is just another day. But for me, it is a celebration.
It is a reminder that there are other people like me all over the world.
Alone, we are rare, but together we are many. We are strong. We are an army.
My name is Lisa Klimas and I am rare.
*All figures from the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD).