Both women and men have health disparities we might not think a lot about. There are the obvious biological health differences such as the fact that only men can develop prostate cancer or only women can develop uterine cancer.
Then there are other health problems that both men and women can be affected by but some of them have a disproportionately higher impact on one sex than the other.
This article addresses 6 different diseases and conditions affecting women at much higher rates than men. Many of these conditions may take years to be accurately diagnosed as they often have symptoms that overlap one another.
Autoimmune disorders are at the top of the list affecting women in far higher numbers than men. Normally our body’s immune system protects us from disease and infection. But an autoimmune disease is when the immune system attacks healthy cells in the body by mistake affecting many parts of the body. No one knows what causes autoimmune diseases but they do tend to run in families with women having a higher risk for some autoimmune diseases. It is not known if the effects of hormones such as estrogen play a role but research is looking into why these health conditions occur in far greater frequency in women than in men.
Here are six conditions – autoimmune and others – disproportionately affecting women:
This chronic autoimmune disease can do damage to any part of the body such as the skin, joints, and organs with a wide variety of symptoms. Anyone can get lupus but it most often affects women ― 90 percent of the victims are women - with it being more common in African American, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American descent than in Caucasian women.
Symptoms can ranges from pain or swelling in joints, muscle pain, fever with no known cause, a butterfly rash on the face to sensitivity to the sun. The cause of lupus in unknown but research suggests genes may play a role. It may takes months or years for a doctor to diagnosis lupus as there is no single test for this.
2. Chronic fatigue syndrome
Chronic fatigue syndrome is a complicated disorder characterized by extreme fatigue that cannot be explained by any underlying medical condition. This condition strikes 3 to 5 times more women than men with the incidence in females peaking between the ages of 40 and 59 years.
The main symptom is fatigue but also can include unexplained muscle pain, headaches, enlarged lymph nodes in the neck or armpits, loss of memory or concentration or pain that moves from one joint to another without redness or swelling. Possible complications can include depression, social isolation and lifestyle restrictions.
Treatment must be tailored to each individual as it can affect people in different ways. Symptom relief might include antidepressants, sleeping pills, physical therapy or psychological counseling.
3. Multiple sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis or MS is a disease of the central nervous system that affects more than 2.1 million people worldwide and is two to three times more common in women than in men. Three out of every four people diagnosed with MS are women. Most MS symptoms are notices between age 20 and 40 which can range from muscle numbness to paralysis and vision loss. Currently it has no cure.
What characterizes MS is that it attacks myelin, the fatty material that insulates nerves, sort of like the plastic covering over electrical wires. It will basically remove myelin in a process called “demyelination.” As more myelin is stripped away, a person’s condition will deteriorate to the point of the damaged nerves unable to transmit messages at all.
4. Celiac disease
This genetic autoimmune disorder is when a person consumes gluten that can lead to damage in the small intestine. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye in which anyone with the condition must avoid for the rest of their lives. If they do consume foods containing gluten, their body begins an immune response that attacks the small intestine damaging the villi which are small fingerlike projections lining the small intestine that promote nutrient absorption. When the villi are damaged, nutrients cannot be absorbed properly in the body which is why the only treatment at this time is to strictly follow a gluten-free diet. Once a person does that, symptoms improve within weeks.
Celiac disease occurs more frequently in women than men as between 60 and 70 percent of individuals diagnosed with celiac are women.
5. Irritable bowel syndrome
This common disorder affects up to 3.5 million people in the United States with up to 65 percent of the individuals having irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) being women. The cause is unknown but it affects the large intestine resulting in symptoms of cramping, pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation consistently for at least three months. It tends to first be noticed in the late teens or early twenties with symptoms coming and going over a person’s life. For women the symptoms are often more troublesome right before her menstrual cycle.
6. Sexually transmitted infections
Each there are approximately 19 million new sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the United States that affect both men and women. But women tend to be more frequently affected and end up with more serious problems from them than men. Among the most serious STI complications are pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, infertility, and chronic pelvic pain. Reasons for this include the fact that the lining of the vagina is more delicate than the skin on the penis making it easier for bacteria and viruses to penetrate plus women may believe they just have symptoms of a yeast infection when actually it is a STI such as chlamydia or gonorrhea.
Two pieces of good news in regards to women and STIs is that women are more likely to than men to go see their doctor when they have symptoms in addition to the fact that the introduction of the cervical cancer or HPV vaccine has greatly reduced the number of cases of genital warts.
Dr. Samadi is a board-certified urologic oncologist trained in open and traditional and laparoscopic surgery and is an expert in robotic prostate surgery. He is chairman of urology, chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital. He is a medical correspondent for the Fox News Channel’s Medical A-Team. Follow Dr. Samadi on Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest, SamadiMD.com and Facebook