Today is National Rare Disease Day!

The last day of February is National Rare Disease Day. Once every four years, the last day of February is  February 29, a “rare” date. On regular years, February 28 is observed as Rare Disease Day.

A disease or disorder is considered rare in the US when it affects fewer than 200,000 Americans at any given time. The problem with rare diseases is that they don’t get the publicity of other well-known disorders, and there is very little research done on these conditions. As an answer to the various medical awareness months and weeks (February was American Heart Month, for example), rare disease activists founded this day to bring awareness to the millions of people who suffer from rare diseases.

Rare Disease Day tends to focus on rare congenital conditions. Here are some rare diseases that affect seniors almost exclusively, with onset typically around age 60:

Amyloidosis

Amyloidosis occurs in adults over 60. It’s a disease caused by antibody protein buildup, and affects the heart, liver, and kidneys. Initial symptoms include severe joint pain and weight fluctuations. While first stage amyloidosis is not treatable, it’s possible to prevent the second, more serious stage, by switching to a heart-healthy diet. Prevention includes eating a healthy diet and avoiding inflammation.

Multiple System Atrophy

This is a degenerative neurological disease that affects seniors. It’s similar to Parkinson’s disease and presents symptoms such as tremors. There is no cure for MSA, but like other degenerative disease, symptoms can be controlled when the disease is caught early.

Bullous Pemphigoid

A rare skin condition caused by autoimmune disease, bullous pemphigoid is the development of large fluid-filled blisters all over the body. It most commonly affects people 70 years old and up. Triggers are unknown, although some evidence shows that exposure to ultravoilet light or radiation therapy could cause it to develop.

Binswanger’s Disease

This disease is a form of dementia caused by damage to the part of the brain that affects learning and brain functions. Onset usually occurs between 55 and 65 years of age, and the first symptoms are mental deterioration and memory loss. People with Binswanger’s disease are more at risk for stroke or TIA, as well as falling, epilepsy, and fainting.

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