Autoimmune Diseases in Women: Types, Testing, and Prevention

Autoimmune Diseases in Women: Types, Testing, and Prevention

Studies show that women are four times more likely to develop an autoimmune disorder than men. 

Autoimmune diseases affect both genders, but women seem more prone to autoimmune diseases than men. 

What are autoimmune diseases?

Autoimmune disease or autoimmune disorder is a condition where the immune system cannot distinguish between your cells in the body and foreign cells, prompting an attack on your immune system. Studies have suggested that about 80% of total patients suffering from autoimmune diseases are women. That is a pretty staggering figure. While it is still unknown what causes autoimmune diseases, scientists are placing their best bets on genetics and hormonal conditions. 

List of autoimmune diseases and symptoms in women

Here's a list of some of women's most commonly occurring autoimmune diseases.

  • Celiac disease

In this autoimmune condition, the body grows intolerant to gluten. Upon consumption of gluten, the immune system attacks the lining of the small intestine. 

Symptoms of celiac disease include:

  1. Diarrhoea/constipation
  2. Pain or bloating in the abdomen
  3. Fatigue
  4. Missing menstrual cycles
  5. Weight loss/weight gain
  6. Infertility/miscarriages
  7. Skin rashes
  • Inflammatory bowel disease

In this autoimmune condition, there is severe inflammation in the digestive system which is usually chronic. The most commonly known IBD forms are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

Symptoms of IBD include:

  1. Pain in the abdomen
  2. Diarrhoea (often bloody) 
  • Psoriasis

In this autoimmune condition, the new skin cells generated deep within your skin rise to the surface, forming red patches and/or scales. 

Symptoms of psoriasis include:

  1. Thick red patches/scales on the head, elbows, and knees
  2. Itching and pain can make it hard to make skin contact with anything, hindering daily activities such as sleeping, walking, etc.
  • Hashimoto's disease

Also known as Hashimoto's thyroiditis, this autoimmune condition causes the thyroid gland not to produce enough thyroid hormones. It is one of the most common autoimmune diseases found in women. The situation is aggravated if the woman is also a patient of PCOS.

Symptoms of Hashimoto's disease include:

  1. Weight gain
  2. Fatigue 
  3. Cold sensitivity
  4. Constipation 
  5. Weakness
  6. Muscle pain
  7. Stiff joints
  8. Swelling in the facial region
  9. Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Graves' disease

This autoimmune condition is the opposite of Hashimoto's disease. In this condition, the thyroid gland is overactive, producing excess thyroid hormones in the body.

Symptoms of Graves' disease include:

  1. Weight loss
  2. Sensitivity from heat
  3. Irritability
  4. Muscle weakness
  5. Brittle hair
  6. Irregular menstrual cycles
  7. Excess sweating
  8. Shaky hands
  9. Diarrhea
  • Type 1 Diabetes

In this autoimmune condition, the immune system attacks the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Unfortunately, the damage is permanent. This results in high blood sugar levels, leading to nerve damage and heart and kidney diseases, among other complications. 

Symptoms of type 1 diabetes include:

  1. Weight loss
  2. Extreme thirst or hunger
  3. Frequent urination
  4. Slow-healing wounds
  5. Blurred vision
  6. Dry, itchy skin
  • Multiple Sclerosis

This autoimmune disease affects the spinal cord and the brain. The protective coating around the nerves gets attacked by the immune system. Symptoms of MS differ from patient to patient. 

Some common symptoms of MS include:

  1. Trouble in coordination, speech, balance, and walking
  2. Paralysis
  3. Numb and tingly feet, arms, legs, and hands
  4. Tremors

Testing for autoimmune diseases

Autoimmune conditions are often tough to diagnose. The reason is that the symptoms for most autoimmune disorders overlap with other medical conditions. Blood tests and biopsies help diagnose some autoimmune conditions, like Hashimoto's disease, celiac disease, Graves' disease, etc. However, there are no independent tests that can help determine the existence of an autoimmune condition.

How do you prevent autoimmune diseases?

Genetics is assumed to be one of the contributing factors behind autoimmune conditions. However, they alone aren't the determining factor for it. While you can't do much about your genetics, you can make some positive changes in your lifestyle that can help prevent the risk of autoimmune diseases. 

  1. Eating a balanced and nutritious diet.
  2. Working out regularly
  3. Avoiding/quitting smoking

Final thoughts

Autoimmune disorders might sound scary, but the right approach can help you tackle them effectively. We suggest keeping yourself up-to-date with the latest developments in the treatments and medications on your autoimmune condition.