women

What triggers them?

No one knows, but research has highlighted potential environmental factors. For example, Epstein-Barr Virus, which causes glandular fever, is linked with an increased risk of MS and lupus, while smoking is linked with a higher risk of rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, MS and Graves’ disease (overactive thyroid).

Description: Smoking is linked with a higher risk of rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, MS and Graves’ disease

Smoking is linked with a higher risk of rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, MS and Graves’ disease

Getting a diagnosis

Autoimmune diseases can be hard to diagnose. “The trouble is that symptoms are often woolly – things like fatigue, dizziness or aches and pains,” says Professor D’Cruz. If you think something may be going on, keep a symptom diary, make a note of any ADs in your family, be prepared to persevere and, if necessary, seek a second opinion.

Can they be cured?

No, but they can be managed. Usually, symptoms fuctuate between periods of relative quiet (remission) and fare ups.

These are the five most common autoimmune diseases to affect women…

1. Autoimmune thyroid diseases

Hashimoto’s disease, which causes an underactive thyroid, is four to ten times as common in women as men; while Graves’ disease, which causes an overactive thyroid, is seven times as common.

Symptoms Hashimoto’s: fatigue, depression, weight gain, feeling cold, hair loss, slow heart beat, premature ovarian failure (when eggs run out early). Graves’: anxiety, irritability, insomnia, irregular heart beat, shaky hands, heat intolerance, irregular periods.

Treatments Levothyroxine, a synthetic form of the thyroid hormone, T4 (Hashimoto’s). Medication to quell production of thyroid hormones, radioactive iodine to destroy thyroid tissue or surgery to remove it (Graves’).

Description: A doctor is checking a patient afftected Autoimmune thyroid

A doctor is checking a patient afftected Autoimmune thyroid

2. Lupus (Systemic lupus erythematosus).

The immune system attacks multiple organs – it’s nine times more common in women than men.

Symptoms Fever, weight loss, mouth ulcers, hair loss, rashes, “butterfly” rash on face, joint pain, chest pain, muscle pain, decreased white blood cell count, headaches, dizziness, seizures, memory problems. Sunlight can worsen symptoms.

Treatments Anti-infammatory drugs, topical creams, oral steroids, the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, and immune suppressants. Rituximab, a biological agent, which acts on immune cells called B cells, can help people with severe lupus. Protecting yourself from sunlight can also help.

Description: Lupus’ early symptoms

Lupus’ early symptoms

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