Women face a higher risk of autoimmune diseases; here's why that could be

Posted at 8:45 AM, May 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-10 08:45:10-04

(WXYZ) — It's Women's Health Week, and we wanted to put a spotlight on autoimmune diseases. The disorders include Graves' Disease, MS, rheumatoid arthritis and irritable bowel disease.

All are difficult to diagnose, and they affect women more than men. In fact, at least 85% of patients with multiple autoimmune diseases are female, and the impact can be life-changing.

The disorders are a set of diseases where the body's immune protection turns inward and attacks the tissues and organs.

Kamai Wright is a Detroit living with lupus nephritis, which is lupus that affects the kidneys.

Her first diagnosis with systemic lupus was when she was 13 and when she suffered a blood clot in her right knee.

"I have to have a lot of appointments and a lot of different doctors. I have a rheumatologist, hematologist, nephrologist," Wright said.

She also has a neurologist since she suffered a stroke. Unfortunately, Wright's experience isn’t unique. Autoimmune disorders can affect the whole body.

But why is the immune system in women more likely to go into this hyperdrive? Dr. Alireza Meysami says part of it may be hormonal.

Autoimmune diseases often emerge or flair around puberty, pregnancy and menopause. But genes and women's two X chromosomes with an area related to immunity are thought to play a bigger role.

"Imagine if you have two X chromosomes, that actually, they carry your immune system gene. So you have a higher chance of having a surge in your immune system," Meysami said.

That immunity surge can lead to any of the more than 100 autoimmune diseases. They include: Lupus, psoriatic arthritis, psoriasis, Grave's Disease, Hashimoto's Disease, multiple sclerosis and more.

Since they can affect the whole body they can be difficult to diagnose.

"They are not on top of the differential diagnosis of our primary care or referring physician. So it takes time to actually recognize those patients," Meysami said.

Maysami says it can take years before the classic symptoms emerge in any of these diseases. And that is a major problem since early diagnosis is key.

Most of this disease, unfortunately, can cause major disability, major endorphin damage, and sometimes death," Maysami said

Wright's lupus is well managed. She says working with her medical team, and managing her diet and stress allow her to live a fulfilling life despite her diagnosis.

"(I have) a lot more energy to do things with my friends. It's easier for me to live, like even do my work in general," she said.

Many women with auto-immune diseases struggle to get the correct diagnosis.

Their symptoms are dismissed as minor, called imaginary or psychological. It’s a real issue and research shows it's more likely to have women.

It's called medical gaslighting and it can lead to years of unnecessary pain, suffering and humiliation.