Women’s health is a cause for concern in today’s world. There are, of course, a wide range of diseases that only affect women, such as breast cancer, endometriosis, and osteoporosis. On top of that, women are more susceptible than men to various diseases. While these include sexually-transmitted diseases such as HIV, it is a little-known fact that certain autoimmune diseases are more common among women than it is among men.
Autoimmune Disorders That Are More Common in Women
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. For every man who develops Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, a disease in which the thyroid gland is attacked by the immune system, 10 women develop it.
- Graves’ disease. Graves’ diseases, which is when autoimmunity causes the thyroid gland to become overly active, occurs seven times more frequently in women than men.
- Multiple sclerosis (MS). Women are twice as likely as men to develop MS, a disease that affects the myelin sheath that covers nerves.
- Myasthenia gravis. For every man who develops myasthenia gravis, a disease that affects skeletal muscles, two women develop it.
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus).Lupus, which occurs when the immune system attacks organs and joints throughout the body, affects nine times as many women as men.
- Rheumatoid arthritis. For every five women who develop rheumatoid arthritis, a disease of the joint tissue, only two men develop it.
The statistics are quite surprising. Plus the list does not end there.
While it is not yet known why autoimmune diseases are more common among women, researchers are attempting to find out the underlying reasons in order to find effective ways to treat and prevent these diseases. Exploring less obvious differences between the two genders, (e.g. in the immune system, hormonal system, and genetics) is shedding some light on techniques for better treatments for both men and women.
Although it is not yet entirely clear exactly why autoimmune diseases occur more frequently in women, some theories involve:
- Gender differences in immunity. Some researchers believe that women are at increased risk of developing autoimmune diseases because their immune systems tend to be more sophisticated then men’s. Women naturally have stronger inflammatory responses than men when their immune systems are triggered, and inflammation plays a key role in many autoimmune diseases. While this often results in superior immunity among women, it may also increase a woman’s risk of developing an autoimmune disorder if something goes wrong.
- Sex hormones. Another theory that may explain why women are at higher risk of having autoimmune disorders has to do with hormonal differences. Many autoimmune diseases tend to improve and flare along with female hormonal fluctuations (for example, during pregnancy, in line with the menstrual cycle, or when using oral contraception), which indicates that sex hormones probably play a role in many autoimmune diseases.
- Genetic susceptibility. Some scientists have proposed that women, who have two X chromosomes in contrast to men’s X and Y chromosome, are genetically predisposed to developing certain autoimmune diseases. There is some evidence that defects in the X chromosome may be related to susceptibility to certain autoimmune diseases. The genetics of autoimmune diseases are complex, and studies are ongoing.
- History of pregnancy. There is some evidence that fetal cells can remain in circulation in a woman’s body for years after a pregnancy, and these fetal cells may be involved in the development or worsening of certain autoimmune diseases.
According to a 2011 PhRMA report, 851 medicines are being developed for diseases that disproportionately affect women.
Hopefully the Biopharma Asia Convention 2013 will reveal the approaches being taken towards curing autoimmune disease.
- Finally, One Link Established – Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), Lupus, Fibromyalgia, Autoimmune Disease and Chronic Lyme Disease (sott.net)
- Understanding Allergies and Autoimmune Diseases (wnyc.org)
- Immune Cell Death Safeguards Against Autoimmune Disease (sott.net)
- Paraneoplastic Pemphigus Autoimmune Disease and Qualifying For Disability (socialsecurityhome.com)