Autoimmune conditions provoke a person’s immune system to mistakenly identify parts of their body as invasive, which then acts to destroy them. These conditions are triggered by a combination of DNA mutations and aspects of life in industrialised society, such as processed foods and toxic chemicals. The EU-supported BOOST HEALTH project worked on the most common autoimmune condition, Hashimoto’s. This causes the immune system to slowly destroy the thyroid by making it underactive. An ongoing process, the condition results in a variety of symptoms including anxiety, fatigue, weight gain, brain fog and fertility problems. The project enhanced BOOST Thyroid, the first science-based, free smartphone app (currently available on iPhone) for people with Hashimoto’s or an underactive thyroid.
Helping people track their conditions accurately
The BOOST Thyroid app enables people to analyse and track symptoms, lab tests, medications and supplements (including help with taking them on time). A machine-learning engine also provides users with increasingly personalised scientifically vetted health information and suggestions. Patients can create well-being reports to better understand their unique health patterns and can help with pre-diagnosis as people prepare for a doctor’s visit, by tracking symptoms to provide physicians with more data. EU support has enabled the project to release several updates, increasing its App Store rating from 4.4 to 4.5 stars and generating 300 more ratings, 250 of which are 5 star. An online survey of 480 users has validated the app’s usefulness. 89 % of respondents said that the app’s information had helped them improve their symptoms.
Insufficient research and scientific knowledge
Thyroid autoimmune conditions are often diagnosed too late. One of the problems with diagnosis is the vast number of symptoms a person might be experiencing, often varying in duration and intensity. Sometimes they’re misdiagnosed as disorders on the depressive spectrum. Autoimmune and thyroid conditions also predominantly affect females. “Historically, conditions affecting females haven’t received the same level of research as conditions affecting males. This results in fewer individualised preventive strategies,” says project coordinator, Vedrana Högqvist Tabor. “Our mission is to empower patients with science-derived knowledge and a digital tool for more targeted conversations with their doctors.”
Creating an equal health opportunity
Some 350 million people worldwide live with the autoimmune thyroid condition, Hashimoto’s. In Europe, there are approximately 40 million people diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, and 50 million people awaiting diagnosis. The condition is lifelong and complex, and worsens with age. As it has been linked to a range of health complications such as infertility, heart problems and obesity, having a good strategy to halt progression and ensure people age well is crucial. “Although there is lots of evidence that the most common thyroid medication doesn’t help all patients, little is being done to make novel treatments available,” says Tabor. “By merging patient empowerment, augmented doctors and research, health tech can turn disease management from being reactive to preventive.” The data generated by BOOST Thyroid will help towards speeding up research on autoimmune conditions and knowledge reaching parity with that about male conditions. While still studying the health complications caused by an underactive thyroid and Hashimoto’s, the team continues to explore machine learning and data generation/sharing for basic research, in their quest to develop ever more individualised treatments.
BOOST HEALTH, autoimmune, thyroid, disease, Hashimoto’s, anxiety, fatigue, weight gain, brain fog, fertility problems, diagnosis