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Autoimmune Disease and Women

Autoimmune Disease and Women

Autoimmune diseases occur when the body mistakenly attacks its own immune system. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), autoimmune diseases are collectively the third most common condition in the United States, following heart disease and cancer. Autoimmune disease affects up to 22 million people nationwide annually, and 78% of those patients are women.

Archbold’s physicians are at the forefront of autoimmune disease treatment. Providers at Archbold recognize and understand the signs and symptoms of these conditions and provide testing, education, referrals and treatment.

Women and Autoimmune Disease

Though the exact cause of autoimmune disease is not well known, experts agree a woman’s genetic code may increase her risk.

“Many of the genetic components that cause autoimmune diseases originate from the X chromosome,” said Rachel Anderson, DO, primary care physician at Archbold. “Females have two X chromosomes compared with men, who only have one.”

Women in their childbearing years are particularly vulnerable to developing autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune symptoms are often activated by stress or hormonal changes, which affect women disproportionately before menopause. Having a close family member who has been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease increases a woman’s risk of developing one.

Common Autoimmune Diseases in Women

According to Dr. Anderson, women are treated for the following autoimmune diseases most often:

  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). This is an umbrella term for two conditions, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, that cause inflammation of the digestive tract.
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS). This condition occurs when the immune system attacks the protective coating around the nerves in the central nervous system, which includes the brain, optic nerves and spinal cord. MS is a progressive condition which can cause increasing disability throughout life.
  • Psoriasis/psoriatic arthritis. Psoriasis occurs when skin cells grow too quickly and pile up, often forming plaques and scales and causing pain and itching. Psoriatic arthritis can cause these symptoms as well as joint deterioration.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis. This form of arthritis occurs when the immune system attacks the body’s joints.
  • Systematic lupus erythematosus. Also called lupus, this condition causes damage to several major organs and leads to a variety of symptoms, including fatigue, fever, weight loss and body pain.
  • Thyroid conditions. Hashimoto’s disease (underactive thyroid) and Grave’s disease (overactive thyroid) are both autoimmune conditions.
  • Type 1 diabetes. This condition occurs when the body attacks insulin-producing cells, resulting in high blood sugar. High blood sugar causes a range of symptoms and, when left untreated, may result in heart disease and many other complications.

Preventing and Managing Autoimmune Disease

There is no cure for autoimmune disease, yet many can be managed by treating the symptoms and committing to lifestyle changes.

“I treat each patient as a whole through mind, body and spirit because those areas deserve equal attention,” said Dr. Anderson. “The first step when treating a patient with an autoimmune disease is education, since understanding a condition at its core is key to successful management.”

During treatment for an autoimmune condition, some symptoms may come and go. Managing stress. whether related to inconsistent symptoms or day-to-day life, helps minimize symptoms of autoimmune conditions. It can also be effective to make balanced dietary choices, such as eating fresh fruits, vegetables and lean meats, and avoiding alcohol and sugar.

For digestive issues associated with autoimmune conditions, Dr. Anderson recommends a daily probiotic. Probiotics are available at any grocery or drugstore and contain good bacteria the guy needs to maintain healthy digestion.

“A patient’s food and exercise choices play a huge role in eliminating inflammation that contributes to autoimmune disease,” Dr. Anderson dais. “Get moving more, and take note of any dietary triggers that increase symptoms in order to avoid them.”

For an autoimmune disease that requires daily medication and frequent monitoring, taking medications as directed and keeping up with regular visits with a physician is critical.

“It’s important to consider autoimmune disease management as an opportunity for wholesome lifestyle change,” Dr. Anderson said. “Lifestyle changes are a chance to improve your health, not just maintain it. Take time to appreciate little victories in your disease management.”

Get leading-edge treatment for autoimmune disease at Archbold. To find a primary care provider who can help, visit