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Fact Sheet Autoimmune Disease in Women: NWHIC


Forum: Autoimmune Diseases and Disorders

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April 15th, 2010, 05:56 PM
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AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE
The term "autoimmune disease" refers to a varied group of more than 80 serious, chronic illnesses that involve almost every human organ system. It includes diseases of the nervous, gastrointestinal, and endocrine systems, as well as skin and other connective tissues, eyes, blood, and blood vessels. In all of these diseases, the underlying problem is similar--the body's immune system becomes misdirected, attacking the very organs it was designed to protect.

A WOMEN'S ISSUE
For reasons we do not understand, about 75 percent of autoimmune diseases occur in women, most frequently during the childbearing years. Table 1 lists the female*to*male ratios in autoimmune diseases. Hormones are thought to play a role, because some autoimmune illnesses occur more frequently after menopause, others suddenly improve during pregnancy, with flare*ups occurring after delivery, while still others will get worse during pregnancy.

TABLE 1
Female/Male Ratios in Autoimmune Diseases

DISEASE RATIO
Hashimoto's disease 50:1
Systemic lupus erythematosus 9:1
Sjögren's disease 9:1
Antiphospholipid syndrome 9:1
Primary biliary cirrhosis 9:1
Mixed connective tissue disease 8:1
Chronic active hepatitis 8:1
Graves' disease 7:1
Type I diabetes 2:1
Rheumatoid arthritis 4:1
Scleroderma 3:1
Myasthenia gravis 2:1
Multiple sclerosis 2:1
Chronic idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura 2:1

From the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, Michigan National Bank Building, 15475 Granot Ave, Detroit, MI 48205, (313) 371-8600.

Autoimmune diseases also seem to have a genetic component, but, mysteriously, they can cluster in families as different illnesses. For example, a mother may have lupus erythematosus; her daughter, diabetes; her grandmother, rheumatoid arthritis. Research is shedding light on genetic, as well as hormonal and environmental risk factors that contribute to the causes of these diseases.

Individually, autoimmune diseases are not very common, with the exception of thyroid disease, diabetes, and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). However, taken as a whole, they represent the fourth largest cause of disability among women in the United States.

A NEED FOR KNOWLEDGE
Autoimmune diseases remain among the most poorly understood and poorly recognized of any category of illnesses. Individual diseases range from the benign to the severe. symptoms vary widely, notably from one illness to another, but even within the same disease. And because the diseases affect multiple body systems, their symptoms are often misleading, which hinders accurate diagnosis. To help women live longer, healthier lives, a better understanding of these diseases is needed, as well as providing early diagnosis and treatment.
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