Although it is hard to predict which illnesses can and will affect certain people, especially going by gender alone, some research has found that women may have their own set of health issues compared to men, and as a result, some diseases can affect women more seriously. There are a number of common women's health problems that occasionally include diseases women are more likely to die from than men, and it's important for women to be aware of these possible health risks. Knowing which diseases can be more fatal to women is not meant to scare you, but it can help arm you with the knowledge to better protect your health and make sure you keep up on your check-ups and make the best decisions for your body.
"There are several reasons why women may be more prone to certain diseases," Nesochi Okeke Igbokwe, M.D. tells Bustle. "Both biological and anatomical differences may certainly play a role. ...[potential] variations in anatomy and even hormonal changes may potentially be contributing factors. Sociological factors such as gender bias in the delivery of healthcare may also partly be a component of a woman's susceptibility to certain diseases."
There's no need to panic just because you identify as a woman — gender is not the only determinant of whether someone will or will not contract a disease — but it's good to be aware of the research being done and what may disproportionately affect women. Here are seven diseases experts say women are more likely to die from than men.
1. Heart Disease
According to research, women are much more likely to die from heart disease than men. In fact, one in every four women will die from heart disease, according to the CDC. "Men are equally at risk for heart disease, but women are more likely to die from this unpredictable disease," Sherry Ross, MD, OB/GYN tells Bustle. "Women’s symptoms associated with a heart attack are not as obvious and can often be missed. Since the symptoms are not as straight forward as they are for men, there is a delay in diagnosis, which contributes to women more likely dying from heart disease." While many women may have no symptoms at all, it is important to see a doctor if you are experiencing pain or discomfort in your chest, shortness of breath, or fatigue. Knowing what to look for is the best way to lessen this statistic.
2. Type 1 Diabetes
According to a study published in The Lancet, Diabetes & Endocrinology, women are 37 percent more likely than men to die from Type 1 diabetes. "Researchers think this may have to do with the fact that women don't give themselves as much insulin as men or that they have a more complicated internal regulation mechanism due hormones," Sonia Patel, PharmD, Chief Pharmacist at Capsule, an online pharmacy in NYC, tells Bustle. If you have signs of diabetes, or have been given the diagnosis by your doctor, be sure to take medication as prescribed, and contact your doctor if anything seems amiss.
3. Autoimmune Disorders
Autoimmune conditions occur when the body attacks itself, such as in lupus, multiple sclerosis, etc. "Among those affected, 78 percent are women," says Patel. "Researchers think this is tied to hormones (autoimmune diseases tend to flare up as hormone levels fluctuate in women) and the fact that women have more active immune responses than men." If an autoimmune condition is diagnosed, be sure to monitor your symptoms with a doctor, and adhere to treatment plans.
Scientific research has also found that identifying women are more likely to suffer from strokes. "More women suffer strokes than men, and female stroke victims have a 60 percent mortality rate, compared to 40 percent among men," says Patel. "The reasons behind this are thought to be similar to those for general heart disease — longer life, less attentive treatment, and hormones." Strokes are also known to be the third leading cause of death for women, so knowing the signs is important. If you or a loved one are experiencing weakness, loss of motor functions, high blood pressure, or a bad headache, talk with a doctor immediately.
5. Alcohol Abuse
Although men are more likely to suffer from alcohol abuse, women are more likely to develop serious complications. "Alcohol abuse in women increases their risk of breast cancer, brain disease, liver and heart disease," says Ross. "These types of long-term complications increase a women’s chance of death due to alcohol abuse compared to men." If you or someone you know may be struggling with alcohol abuse, do not feel ashamed asking for help. Calling the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helpline at 1-800-662-HELP can help you or your loved one find the support you need.
6. Alzheimer's Disease
Although it affects older individuals, research suggests that women are more likely than men to die from Alzheimer's disease, a broad term for a progressive mental deterioration. "Although much of this research is still emerging, it's thought that one powerful reason more women tend to suffer from Alzheimer's than men is that estrogen helps protect the female brain from degeneration, while different mechanisms serve the same function for men," says Patel. "When estrogen drops during menopause, the female brain is more vulnerable, and Alzheimer's can develop in susceptible people."
7. Lung Disease
Women might also be at a higher risk of lung diseases like COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), asthma, or pulmonary fibrosis. "They are more likely to develop these illnesses and die from them," emergency medicine and pediatric emergency medicine physician. Irene Tien tells Bustle. Unfortunately, research still seems to be inconclusive on why. "The reasons for the increased prevalence of dying is unclear."
It is important to remember that if you identify as a woman does not mean you are predisposed to these diseases. Many factors like genetics, environment, and lifestyle contribute to the overall diagnosis of a disease, and should be considered as well when thinking about health risks. But if you do notice any symptoms that seem amiss, talk with your doctor. By knowing the statistics, and being preemptive about your healthcare, you can live a happy, healthy life.