LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — More than 50 million Americans struggle with an autoimmune disorder, some are debilitating. The Autoimmune Association reports more than 100 autoimmune diseases, and cases are on the rise. 

March is Autoimmune Awareness Month. Doctors and researchers point to raising awareness of autoimmune diseases as another step toward improving diagnosis and treatment. Identifying an autoimmune disorder early can reduce its impact on your life. 

Common disorders include Type 1 diabetes, alopecia, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and thyroid disorders like Hashimoto’s disease.

University Medical Center’s Dr. John Onyema explained, “in an autoimmune disorder, a certain part of the body is being destroyed.”

It’s not known what causes autoimmune diseases but when you have one, your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in your body. 

Onyema recommends establishing a primary care physician and to keep up with annual check-ups.

“Once you have a diagnosis then you have a plan of care,” he said.

A plan of care can go beyond medication, but also a change in lifestyles like food and activity. 

“Autoimmune disorders impact more people than we realize,” said Katie Spada, a dietician at UMC. “thyroid, kidney, celiac disease. It’s important people be aware of it so they can do things for their health.”

Spada said there is a link between reducing gluten and improving the impacts of Hashimoto’s disease. 

As for diet changes, she said when serving yourself, divide your plate. Non-starchy vegetables should cover one side. Divide the other half again between proteins and grains. 

Another tip is to use your palm which is roughly the size of three ounces of protein. Your thumb is about two tablespoons, and 1 cup is the equivalent of cupping your hands together.