Autoimmune diseases are more widespread than most people think. At least 23.5 million Americans suffer from the disorder. About 75 percent of autoimmune diseases occur in women, leading the National Institute of Health to officially designate it as a major women’s health issue. Scientists believe that genetics and hormonal changes are two of the reasons for the prevalence of the disease in women. Having an autoimmune disease increases the risk of having another. That’s the reason it’s so important for women to become more knowledgeable about this group of illnesses.
There are more than 100 diseases caused by autoimmune responses.
Here are four of the most common.
Women are up to 10 times more likely than men to have lupus, which can attack the joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart and lungs.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
With MS, the body’s immune system attacks a coating that protects the
nerves, causing the communication between the brain and the body to be disrupted.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
RA is a chronic inflammation of the lining of the joints, usually in the hands and feet, which become painful and swollen. The disease can affect anyone, but it is most prevalent in women over 40. If it goes unchecked, RA can damage cartilage and the bones. Joints can become loose and painful, lose their mobility and become deformed. Joint damage cannot be reversed, so early diagnosis followed by aggressive treatment is important.
These include Graves’ disease, in which the body produces too much of the thyroid hormone, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, where the body doesn’t make enough of the hormone.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Unfortunately, diagnosing an autoimmune disease can be difficult. The symptoms are often nonspecific or are very similar to other conditions. There’s usually no single test that can diagnose an autoimmune disease or one factor that causes it. As a result, multiple visits to several doctors may be required to obtain a diagnosis. However, if you know something is wrong, you should insist that your symptoms be taken seriously, especially if they include the following.
• Joint pain and swelling
• Skin problems
• Abdominal pain or digestive issues
• Recurring fever
• Swollen glands
• Risk Factors and Prevention
Researchers are not quite sure what causes autoimmune diseases. We do know that certain diseases, such as lupus and multiple sclerosis, have a genetic factor because they tend to run in families. Being overweight raises the risk for developing rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis. Smoking has also been linked to several autoimmune diseases, and certain medications can cause drug-induced lupus, which is a milder form of lupus.
Other ways to reduce your risk include:
• Eat a nutritious diet and limit processed foods
• Make physical exercise a daily part of you life
• Get enough sleep
• Reduce your stress level
• Keep up-to-date on the latest information about your medications
Sources: Johns Hopkins Medicine, Intermountain Healthcare, VeryWell Health
Informative content about autoimmune disease provides a perfect opportunity for hospitals, clinics and healthcare providers to raise awareness about the wide range of women’s health services available. Primary care providers, OB/GYN and rheumatologists are appropriate medical specialists to promote this awareness. This type of messaging provides an important public service and creates an opportunity to direct women to their primary care providers. Effective marketing tools might include social media, digital media and print in tandem with a strong call to action to learn more or schedule an appointment.
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Brentwood Communications also helps hospitals stay in touch with their communities through an informative and cost-effective digital and printed magazine called My Hometown Health, a powerful tool to help promote better health and raise awareness of key services available at the hospital. Emmy-nominated talk show host, choreographer and Dancing with the Stars judge Carrie Ann Inaba is featured in the current Fall 2021 magazine. Carrie Ann talks openly about her struggle with chronic autoimmune disease.
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