Being a woman is a potential health hazard. On top of other problems - periods, childbirth, the pink tax, fighting for equal pay - women are also more susceptible to numerous health conditions, particularly autoimmune diseases.
For many of the medical conditions more common in women than men, the differences in risk are striking. Sometimes, women are 60% more likely to get a condition, and often, modern medicine doesn't have an answer why, even taking into account differences in biology.
Hormones are often to blame when there is a scientific explanation for why women are at a higher risk of certain diseases. Changes in hormone levels, whether at puberty, after childbirth, or due to menopause, can all trigger the onset of many serious health conditions.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is most commonly associated with men, but about half of those with the condition are women. And after age 65, women become more likely than men to develop hypertension, according to the American Heart Association.
Menopause can trigger high blood pressure in women. During menopause, estrogen drops, which can cause heart and blood vessels to harden, a condition that leads to high blood pressure. Other factors that can cause hypertension include birth control pills (especially when combined with smoking), excess weight, and pregnancy.
Multiple sclerosis, commonly known as MS, is similar to an autoimmune condition in that the body turns on the nervous system. Immune cells go after something in the nervous system, but because doctors and researchers don't know exactly what that target is, they refer to MS as "immune-mediated" as opposed to autoimmune.
When these immune cells hurt the nerves, the symptoms can be rough and include fatigue, spasms, numbness, walking problems, and vertigo. It's not clear why anyone gets MS, although age, gender, and genetics might be factors.
According to Science Daily, women are nearly four times as likely as men to have MS, and in 2014, researchers closed in on an answer why. A study found that women prone to MS produced more of a protein called S1PR2 than men did, and the protein was linked to MS. S1PR2 lets immune cells target blood vessels in the brain; the resulting inflammation triggers MS.
Alzheimer's, the form of dementia that affects more than 5 million Americans, is more common in women than men. According to AP via CBS Boston, about two-thirds of those living with Alzheimer's are women, and after age 65, women become considerably more likely to develop the memory condition: a one-in-six chance, compared with a man's one-in-11 chance.
A gene that increases the risk of Alzheimer's could be a big reason why women are more likely to develop the disease. Women with a copy of the gene variant are twice as likely to get Alzheimer's than women without it. Men with the gene are only slightly more likely to develop Alzheimer's.
Lupus is a chronic immune system disorder that can lead to inflammation in many parts of the body, including the skin, joints, and organs. With the immune condition, the body can no longer tell what it should fight against and what it should protect - so it turns on the healthy body. No cure is available, although symptoms can be treated.
Although anyone can get lupus, the difference in incidence rates between men and women with lupus is striking. Women are nine times more likely to develop lupus, according to the Lupus Foundation of America. Also, Asian American, African American, and Hispanic women are more likely to have it.
No one knows why lupus strikes most often in women. It could be due to a difference in hormones, but even if that's true, researchers don't understand how those hormones affect lupus.