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Being a woman, a risk for autoimmune diseases

Genetics and hormones condition women: autoimmune diseases are more common there precisely because of these factors.

Defined as that heterogeneous group of conditions that share the fact of having antibodies produced by the person himself who act against their own cells i fabricsthe systemic autoimmune diseases (EAS) occur more frequently in women. A circumstance that we address on International Women’s Day.

Because? To what extent can it be avoided? The Spanish Multidisciplinary Society of Systemic Autoimmune Diseases (SEMAIS) points to the life stressto the environmental factorsat infections or the female sex hormones as possible triggers of some pathologies.

The most frequent EAS

According to the second vice-president of SEMAIS and head of the Autoimmune Diseases Service at Hospital Clínic de Barcelona, Doctor Ricard Cerverais the combination of genetic and hormonal factors which makes women the most frequent profile in these pathologies.

What are the most common? According to the expert they are:

  • The Sjögren’s syndrome: a disorder in which the glands that produce tears and saliva are destroyed, causing dryness in the mouth, eyes and other organs and joints.
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus: disease in which the immune system attacks healthy tissue.
  • The antiphospholipid syndrome: disease in which antibodies are created that attack tissue and create clots in arteries and veins.
  • Systemic sclerosis or scleroderma: a disease that particularly affects the skin.

“Among the EAS, the biggest differences occur in lupus and Sjögren’s syndrome, where for every man affected we find 9 to 10 women with these diseases”, specifies Dr. Cervera.

In the case of lupusthe greatest risk of occurrence occurs in the fertile age of the womanthat is to say, from the menarche (beginning of menstruation) and lasts until the third or fourth decade of life. Although, as determined by Cervera, after menopause both its appearance and outbreaks are less frequent.

Autoimmune diseases that affect more men

Of course, there are certain autoimmune diseases that are more common in men, such as…

  • Thromboangiitis obliterans or Buerguer’s disease: a vasculitis intrinsically related to smoking.
  • Behçet’s disease: inflammation of the body’s blood vessels.
  • Ankylosing spondyloartitis: autoimmune disease that causes some vertebrae, over time, to fuse.

How are autoimmune diseases prevented?

There is different ways to reduce risk of appearance or, in case of suffering from the disease, the sprout.

The way to prevent it is to avoid them external risk factorshow:

  • Female sex hormones: avoid the use of hormonal contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy in certain circumstances.
  • Life stress: you have to lead a balanced life.
  • Environmental factors: limit exposure to ultraviolet rays, prevention and early treatment of infections…
Sun exposure is a risk to be aware of.
EFE/Jorge Zapata

Genetics predisposes, but does not cause

However, it is important to note that although genes play a role as a predisposing factor, they are rarely the sole or primary cause. And despite the fact that it is not possible to reduce the genetic risk, early diagnosis can be favored in them family cases.

“Given the presence of some suspected clinical manifestation of EAS (joint pain, skin lesions, intense fatigue…), the existence of a family history of these diseases should motivate the doctor to study the possible existence of a underlying EAS”, assures the expert.

Dr. Cervera, as spokesperson for SEMAIS, insists that the difference lies in the early diagnosis since it allows starting a treatment that controls the pathology and avoid or at least limit the development of irreversible chronic damage.

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