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  • Writer's pictureJessica Frizzell, PA-C

How Autoimmune Diseases Affect Women vs. Men

Do rheumatic diseases affect women more than men? And if more women than men do indeed develop rheumatic diseases, then why? What makes women more susceptible to developing autoimmune diseases compared to men?

For many years, researchers have sought answers to these questions. Here at Paducah Rheumatology, we hear similar questions from concerned patients.

Are autoimmune diseases more prevalent in women? Let’s look at what experts have discovered about how rheumatic diseases affect women versus men.

What percentage of patients diagnosed with autoimmune diseases are women?

“There are over 100 types of autoimmune diseases that predominantly affect women. Approximately 80% of all patients diagnosed with autoimmune diseases are women.”

How often are women diagnosed with autoimmune diseases compared to men?

“Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease characterized by chronic dry eyes and mouth due to the degeneration of lachrymal and salivary glands, affects women in a 9:1 ratio.

SLE [systemic lupus erythematosus], an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks healthy tissues affecting the skin, joints, kidneys, and the brain, are seen to affect women in a 7:1 ratio.”

What makes women more susceptible to developing autoimmune diseases?

“Women have up to a fourfold increase in risk for autoimmune disease compared to men. Many explanations have been proposed, including sex hormones, the X chromosome, microchimerism, environmental factors, and the microbiome.”

“Researchers have also postulated the association of autoimmune conditions with the X chromosome and X inactivation. A female individual normally has two X chromosomes, and for this reason, possesses a higher risk of autoimmune diseases, as compared to men.”

Does the chemical makeup of women play a role in disease development?

“Although a bit simplified, one underlying factor may more simply explain a significant portion of the autoimmune sex bias: antibodies. Specifically, we hypothesize that women have an evolutionarily conserved tendency toward enhanced B-cell activation and production of higher levels of antibodies, which results in increased incidence of antibody-driven autoimmune diseases. This hypothesis stems from our observation that women have more serum immunoglobulins (i.e., antibodies) than men at baseline … and in response to challenges like infection or vaccination …”

Can lifestyle choices contribute to the development of an autoimmune disease?

“Many individuals are predisposed to autoimmune disorders, which are activated by a plethora of triggers such as climate, poor diet/lifestyle choices, lack of exercise, increased levels of stress, and/or lack of adequate sleep. Other triggers such as hormonal changes during puberty and pregnancy for women may often be inevitable.”

How do autoimmune diseases impact mortality rates among women?

“Counts of autoimmune disease deaths were compared with frequencies of the 10 ‘official’ leading causes of death among women in the United States in 1995.

Autoimmune disease deaths exceeded the frequency of the 10th leading cause in every age category of women younger than 65 years and exceeded that for the eighth leading cause in the 15 to 24, 25 to 44, and 45 to 64 years age groups.”

Can women develop more than one autoimmune disease?

“Disorders of an autoimmune nature are known to occur with increased frequency in patients with another autoimmune disease. About 25 percent of patients with autoimmune diseases have a tendency to develop additional autoimmune disorders.”

What can women do to prevent the onset of autoimmune diseases?

“Many predisposed to autoimmune disorders may be able to lessen the severity or prevent the condition from arising, altogether by abstaining from smoking, excessive drinking, instilling a healthy diet/lifestyle, exercising, reducing stress factors, and sleeping adequately.”

What type of medical professional specializes in treating autoimmune diseases?

A rheumatologist treats autoimmune diseases, rheumatic diseases, and inflammatory diseases, and our team at Paducah Rheumatology would feel honored to help you manage yours.

Whether you already have an autoimmune disease diagnosis or you suspect your symptoms are autoimmune disease-related, we are accepting new patients with a physician’s referral.

We take the time to listen to your questions and address your concerns as we work together to determine the proper treatment plan that supports your individual needs and specific diagnosis.

Give us a call at 270-408-6100 today.

*The research findings and statistics presented in this blog were derived from the National Library of Medicine:

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