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Autoimmune Disease in Females: Why Is It More Common?

Autoimmune Disease in Females: Why Is It More Common?

Its no secret that a person’s sex can make them more prone to certain diseases. For example, breast cancer is much more common in women, even if it also affects men. And the more obvious ones such as prostate cancer or ovarian cancer which affects very specific organs. But did you know that autoimmune disease in females is also more common compared to men?

Why is this the case? And what steps can women take in order to avoid having these diseases?

What is an autoimmune disease?

Before we talk about the prevalence of autoimmune disease in females, we first need to talk about autoimmune diseases.

Our immune system is a network of cells and organs that work together to fight off foreign invaders in the body. When you get infected by a bacteria or a virus, the immune system springs into action in order to fight off these invaders.

However, there are some cases wherein the autoimmune system is unable to distinguish between the cells of the body, and foreign invaders. When this happens, the immune system sends out antibodies that attack the healthy cells of the body. This is what happens if a person has an autoimmune disease1.

While autoimmune diseases affect both men and women, it is much more common in women for reasons that will be explained below.

Why is autoimmune disease in females more common?

It is estimated that about 80% of people with autoimmune diseases are women. And the reason why this is the case has more to do with how chromosomes work. Chromosomes are strands of DNA that carry an organism’s genetic information.

A person’s X and Y chromosomes, or sex chromosomes, are what determines their sex at birth. Women have an XX chromosome, while men have an XY chromosome. Interestingly, women’s XX chromosomes mean that they are more resistant to diseases that have to do with an X chromosome.

This is because if one of their X chromosomes has a defect, their other X chromosome can still have a working copy of that gene. It is also believed that this is the reason why women generally live longer than men.

However, the benefits of having an XX chromosome is also linked to a higher risk of autoimmune disease. This is because the X chromosome has been found to play a part in autoimmunity2. Having 2 X chromosomes means that women have a “double dose3” of certain genes, and this increases their risk of autoimmune disease.

Hormones might also play a role

Another theory supposes that a woman’s hormones might play a role when it comes to autoimmune disease. In particular, estrogen can make women more prone to these diseases.

This is backed by cases wherein women with rheumatoid arthritis experience a remission of their disease once they become pregnant. But after they give birth, their disease comes back. In addition, pre-menopausal women tend to have a lower incidence of gout, compared to post-menopausal women4.

This means that the hormonal changes that women go through in life can also play a role in having a higher risk of autoimmune disease5.

Should women be worried?

Since women are more prone to autoimmune disease, does this mean that women should be worried? Well, yes and no.

Yes, since women need to be more mindful of the symptoms of autoimmune disease, and getting regular checkups can be helpful. This way, if they do acquire a disease, then it can be managed as soon as possible, and the effects can be mitigated.

However, this doesn’t mean that women should constantly be in fear of acquiring an autoimmune disease. The important thing is to take the necessary steps in order to stay healthy, and try your best to keep tabs on your health.

Learn more about Women’s Health here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources
  1. Autoimmune diseases | Office on Women’s Health, https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/autoimmune-diseases, Accessed November 22, 2021
  2. Why are autoimmune diseases more prevalent in women? | Tidsskrift for Den norske legeforening, https://tidsskriftet.no/en/2017/06/kronikk/why-are-autoimmune-diseases-more-prevalent-women#:~:text=Women%20are%20less%20susceptible%20to,relating%20to%20the%20immune%20system., Accessed November 22, 2021
  3. The Prevalence of Autoimmune Disorders in Women: A Narrative Review, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7292717/, Accessed November 22, 2021
  4. Why women have more autoimmune diseases, https://intermountainhealthcare.org/blogs/topics/live-well/2019/11/why-women-have-more-autoimmune-diseases/, Accessed November 22, 2021
  5. Why Women Get Autoimmune Diseases Far More Often Than Men, https://labblog.uofmhealth.org/lab-report/why-women-get-autoimmune-diseases-far-more-often-than-men, Accessed November 22, 2021
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Written by Jan Alwyn Batara Updated 2 weeks ago
Fact Checked by Kristel Lagorza