An autoimmune disease occurs when the body’s immune system turns against itself, attacking healthy cells instead of bacteria or unhealthy cells. While this can theoretically happen to anyone, some autoimmune diseases occur based on risk factors in the patient themselves. There is no known cure for most autoimmune diseases. Fortunately, doctors have developed effective treatments for the majority of these conditions.
While certain varieties are less common than others, autoimmune diseases as a whole are quite common, impacting more than 23 million Americans. A diagnosis of an autoimmune disease can be frightening and necessitate significant changes to your life. However, the diagnosis doesn’t have to mean that your activities and lifestyle are completely restricted forever. Here’s everything you need to know about common autoimmune diseases in women and how the diagnosis can affect your life.
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Common Types of Autoimmune Diseases
Some of the most common autoimmune diseases in women include:
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
See a more complete list of these and other, less common autoimmune diseases on WomensHealth.gov.
Risk Factors & Symptoms
There isn’t always much you can do to prevent autoimmune disease. While some risks can be reduced by changing your habits, you won’t completely eliminate the risk. Risk factors include such things as:
- Genetics or family history
- Excess body weight
- Medicinal side effects
Different autoimmune diseases will manifest in slightly different ways, but many symptoms remain consistent no matter what disease is developing. These symptoms include:
- Joint pain and/or swelling
- Recurring fever
- Easily injured or discolored skin
- Swollen glands
- Constant fatigue
- Digestive problems and/or abdominal pain
Treatments for Autoimmune Diseases
Most treatments for autoimmune diseases focus on reducing or controlling the symptoms rather than on “curing” the patient. Unfortunately, there’s no known cure for autoimmune conditions. The best doctors and patients can do is work to find a livable solution. Common treatments include:
- Maintaining excellent fitness and a healthy diet
- Medication to help with pain, depression, sleep deprivation, or other symptoms
- Supplements the body can no longer produce, such as insulin or thyroid hormones
- Immune system suppression
Pro Tip: Autoimmune patients are likely immunocompromised and may not be able to receive essential vaccines. If your doctor recommends against vaccines because of your disease, take care to protect your health in other ways, such as maintaining excellent hygiene and nutrition.
Living with an Autoimmune Disease
If you or a loved one are living with an autoimmune disease, rest assured that doctors are well-equipped to help you manage your symptoms and lead a fulfilling life. But the ultimate responsibility to maintain your health falls on you. Work with your doctor to make healthy choices and stick to their recommended regimen. While an autoimmune disease is not likely to be fully cured, you can relieve your symptoms with the right treatments.
Join the conversation to learn more about autoimmune diseases in women and how to treat them.