What is a rare disease?

A rare disease or disorder is one that affects a small percentage of the total population.
• 80% of rare diseases have identified genetic origins whilst others are the result of infections (bacterial or viral), allergies and environmental causes, or are degenerative and proliferative.
• 50% of rare diseases touch children
Characteristics of Rare Diseases
Over 7000 rare diseases are characterised by a broad diversity of disorders and symptoms that vary not only from disease to disease, but also from patient to patient suffering from the same disease.
Relatively common symptoms can hide underlying rare diseases leading to misdiagnosis and delaying treatment. Quintessentially disabling, the patients’ quality of life is affected by the lack or loss of autonomy due to the chronic, progressive, degenerative, and frequently life-threatening aspects of the disease.
The fact that there are often no existing effective cures adds to the high level of pain and suffering endured by patients and their families.
Reality for Rare Disease Patients and Families
The lack of scientific knowledge and quality information on the disease often results in a delay in diagnosis and superstitious explanations for the conditions. Also the need for appropriate quality health care engenders inequalities and difficulties in access to treatment and care. This often results in heavy social and financial burdens on patients.
As mentioned, due to the broad diversity of disorders and relatively common symptoms which can hide underlying rare diseases, initial misdiagnosis is common. In addition symptoms differ not only from disease to disease, but also from patient to patient suffering from the same disease.
Although rare disease patients and their families face many challenges, enormous progress is being made every day.
The ongoing implementation of a better comprehensive approach to rare diseases has led to the development of appropriate public health policies. Important gains continue to be made with the increase of international cooperation in the field of clinical and scientific research as well as the sharing of scientific knowledge about all rare diseases, not only the most “recurrent” ones. Both of these advances have led to the development of new diagnostic and therapeutic procedures.
However, the road ahead is long with much progress to be made.