Women's Health USA 2007
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Health Status > Health Indicators

Autoimmune Diseases

Autoimmune diseases comprise more than 80 serious, chronic illnesses that can involve almost every human organ system. The common thread among these diseases is that the body’s own immune system attacks itself. For largely unknown reasons, about 75 percent of autoimmune diseases occur in women, most frequently in women of childbearing age.

The most common autoimmune diseases include thyroid disease and systemic lupus erythematosus. Hashimoto’s disease, or hypothyroiditis, is a disease in which the immune system destroys the thyroid, and it occurs in 10 women for every one man. Graves’ disease, in which excessive amounts of thyroid hormone are produced, is another thyroid disease that occurs more frequently in women than men.

Lupus is an inflammation of the connective tissues that can affect multiple organ systems; it occurs in nine women for every one man. In addition to lupus, connective tissue diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, a disorder in which the membranes around joints become inflamed; Sjogren’s Syndrome, in which patients slowly lose the ability to secrete saliva and tears; and scleroderma, which activates immune cells to produce scar tissue in the skin, internal organs and small blood vessels.

Multiple sclerosis, twice as common in women as in men, is a disease of the central nervous system characterized by numbness, weakness, tingling or paralysis of the limbs, impaired vision, and/or lack of coordination. Myasthenia Gravis also results in gradual muscle weakness. Antiphospholipid syndrome occurs when antibodies attack body tissues and organs and results in the formation of blood clots in arteries or veins. Autoimmune thrombocytopenic purpura is characterized by the failure of blood to clot as it should. Autoimmune hepatitis and primary biliary cirrhosis both cause the liver to become inflamed which can lead to cirrhosis, or scarring, of the liver and liver failure.

Autoimmune diseases are poorly understood and little comprehensive data exist. However, the LUMINA study has provided new data about the relationship between ethnicity and outcomes among patients with lupus. The study found that Black and Hispanic lupus patients have more active disease and more organ system involvement than White patients. Data also showed that Black patients may accrue more renal damage than White patients and more skin damage than either Hispanic or White patients.1

1 Alarcon, GS, K Brooks, J Reveille, JR Lisse. Do Patients of Hispanic and African-American Ethnicity with Lupus Experience Worse Outcomes than Patients with Lupus from Other Populations? The LUMINA Study. SLE in Clinical Practice. 1999; 2(3).


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Women's Health USA 2007 is not copyrighted. Readers are free to duplicate and use all or part of the information contained on this page. Suggested Citation: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Women's Health USA 2007. Rockville, Maryland: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2007.