Almost 24 million Americans live with an autoimmune disease—and many of them are women.
Your immune system is your body’s strongest defense against outside attackers, whether these are environmental factors or common bacteria and viruses you pick up from other people. So what happens when it turns on itself?
More than two-thirds of those affected by autoimmune diseases are women. Research about exactly why this is the case is scarce, but what information does exist suggests it may be connected to X-chromosome genes.
A Closer Look
There are more than 80 known autoimmune diseases. Some of the most common include:
- Celiac disease
- Graves' disease
- Hashimoto thyroiditis
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Type 1 diabetes
Lupus patients, in particular, are overwhelmingly female. According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, nine out of every 10 people with the disease are women. Lupus is most often diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 44, and currently no specific cause is known.
MS is two to three times more common in women, and the disease affects women in a significantly different manner than it does men—specifically, women with MS are faced with concerns about how the disease will affect their menstrual cycle and menopause, as well as their chances of getting pregnant and carrying a baby safely to term.
If you live with symptoms of an autoimmune disease, talk to your doctor. While most of these conditions are chronic, they can be managed with medication and lifestyle changes. With proper care and management, you can continue to lead a happy, active life.
Many autoimmune diseases have overlapping symptoms. These symptoms are the body’s response to its immune system attacking healthy tissue rather than its intended purpose of destroying harmful substances.
Common autoimmune symptoms include:
- Generally feeling run-down or sick
- Joint pain
Where these symptoms occur depends on the part of your body affected by your autoimmune condition, which isn’t the same in everyone. For example, one person whose condition affects her joints may feel stiffness in her knee or hip, while another may experience pain in her wrists. Thyroid conditions may also cause weight gain due to hormonal imbalance.