Autoimmune diseases make up the third most common type of disease in the United States after cancer and heart disease. Autoimmune diseases affect almost 10% of the population, and 78% of those affected by autoimmune diseases are women.
With women’s health at the forefront of many health-based discussions around the medical community, it’s important to promote awareness about the most common autoimmune diseases in women. Continue reading to learn more about common autoimmune diseases in women.
Common autoimmune diseases in women
Autoimmune diseases are diseases that affect the immune system. The immune system is made up of a large network of cells that have specific functions. This network of cells helps fight against bacteria and viruses that can cause illness. An autoimmune disease develops when the immune system attacks the body’s own cells, which can lead to inflammation, pain and other symptoms.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that affects the lining of the joints. The body’s immune system attacks the lining of the joints, which can cause pain and stiffness in the joints as well as reduced mobility. For every one male that has rheumatoid arthritis, there are two to three women that have rheumatoid arthritis.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease characterized by excess skin cell growth. Skin cells build up more quickly than usual, which can cause patchy, silvery scales to form on the skin. Other symptoms include itching and pain. While psoriasis may be more prevalent in women than men, the severity of psoriasis may be worse in men.
Multiple sclerosis is a disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the myelin, or the protective coating around the nerve fibers. This can lead to damage of the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include weakness, paralysis, and tremors. Multiple sclerosis is three times more common in women than in men.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus)
Systemic lupus erythematosus, otherwise known as lupus, is an autoimmune disease that affects the kidneys, joints, skin, lungs, and heart, among other parts of the body. It can cause symptoms like fatigue, joint pain, and rashes. Around nine out of ten lupus diagnoses are found in women aged 15 to 44 years old.
Graves disease develops when the body’s immune system attacks the thyroid gland and causes it to become overly active. The thyroid gland then produces too many thyroid hormones. This can cause symptoms like insomnia, weight loss, muscle weakness, and bulging eyes. Graves disease is seven to eight times more common in women than in men.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis occurs when not enough thyroid hormone is produced as a result of autoimmunity. This can lead to symptoms such as weight gain, fatigue, and hair loss. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is around eight times more common in women than men.
Treatment for autoimmune diseases in women
There is no specific test that diagnoses autoimmune diseases. A healthcare provider may conduct a number of tests to evaluate the origin of any signs or symptoms. Some tests may look for specific antibodies that could indicate the immune system is functioning abnormally.
Treatment for autoimmune diseases typically involves managing the symptoms of the disease. There is no cure for autoimmune diseases. Certain medications like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as naproxen and diclofenac, and immunosuppressants, such as azaTHIOprine and tacrolimus, can help reduce pain and inflammation. A healthcare provider may also recommend lifestyle changes such as exercise and a healthy diet to help patients feel better while managing their autoimmune disease.
Inside Rx can help
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