Women are 3x more likely to have autoimmune diseases - like Rheumatoid, Lupus and Sjögren's syndrome - than men.
Autoimmune disease causes the joints to become inflamed, which leads to symptoms like pain and stiffness, fatigue, brain fog and even a higher risk of heart disease.
It is not yet known what causes autoimmune diseases, and more research needs to be carried out to understand why women are affected in such disproportionate numbers. But there are several theories. Here are the main ones.
Researchers have linked autoimmune diseases to female hormones. They have observed that:
- Autoimmune diseases often go into remission during the hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy.
- Women who have breastfed infants are at a decreased risk of developing autoimmune disorders compared to women who have never had children.
- Studies have linked autoimmune disease flares to the menstrual cycle, and
- Women are most commonly diagnosed with autoimmune disorders approaching or during menopause.
Unfortunately, more studies are needed to fully understand why women are more susceptible to autoimmune diseases.
This is because autoimmunity is complex with multiple genetic and environmental factors.
Source: BMC Med 2009; 7 : 12. Sex differences in rheumatoid arthritis; more than meets the eye. Ronald F van Vollenhoven.