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Men Get Autoimmune Disease, Too

As June comes to a close, we want to once again acknowledge Men’s Health Month, as we’ve been doing the past several weeks on social media. This national observance raises awareness about health care for men, and encourages boys, men, and their families to practice and implement healthy living decisions, such as exercising and eating healthy.

Men’s Health in America

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on average, men in the United States die five years earlier than women, and die at higher rates from the three leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, and unintentional injuries. While not as common as these conditions, men certainly also suffer with autoimmune diseases.

There isn’t one reason for this lifespan and health disparity, but a group of factors contributes to the cause. A higher percentage of men do not have healthcare coverage – this, in turn, leads to a lower use of healthcare resources, as men are less likely to schedule routine doctor’s appointments. Men make about half as many doctor visits for preventive care as women. They also tend to be involved and employed in more dangerous occupations such as mining, firefighting, and construction.

One of the most problematic behaviors contributing to this lifespan disparity is the non-help-seeking nature of men. Statistics show that women are 33% more likely to visit their doctor and 100% better at maintaining screening and preventive services than men. Part of this is rooted in how men and young girls are socially conditioned – young girls, perhaps ontologically, are taught very early about their bodies whereas men aren’t taught the same – typical boy behavior of being rough – falling and scraping of knees is encouraged. Thus, as boys age, this learned behavior is enforced in adulthood.

Autoimmune Disease in Men

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), autoimmune diseases are the third most common disease category in the United States. The most recent data shows that 4.7 million American men are living with a diagnosed autoimmune disease, representing 20% of all autoimmune disease patients; however, this data is outdated, and the Autoimmune Association is working hard to gather current data. Due to reasons explained above, combined with the medical community’s tendency to not consider autoimmune diseases in men, it’s likely that thousands of men are living with undiagnosed autoimmune conditions. To better understand the true prevalence of autoimmune disease, we encourage men to participate in the Autoimmune Research Network (ARNet), the Autoimmune Association’s patient data registry. ARNet collects data from autoimmune patients to inform research, clinical trials, and treatment guidelines, and is a good tool to help us understand a truer scope of autoimmune diseases among men.

Doctor examining male patient's neck
It’s likely that men are significantly under-diagnosed with autoimmune diseases.

The Unique Experiences of Men with Autoimmune Disease

Earlier this month, we convened a listening session with men living with autoimmune disease to better understand their experiences and challenges. We heard comments such as, “My doctor said men don’t get autoimmune disease,” and “It was hard for me to get a diagnosis because my doctor never considered testing for autoimmune disease.” These biases and misunderstanding among the medical community create significant challenges for men, even beyond those that already exist for autoimmune patients, especially those with lesser known and rare disease. Listening sessions like these help us understand the challenges that men face and will help guide our strategy and priorities.

To help in the journey to diagnosis, men should feel comfortable visiting with a doctor, seeking advice from physicians, and looking after their health.They should also be educated on autoimmune diseases. Our website provides excellent information about autoimmune diseases that can help men become educated and empowered. We also offer tips for finding a physician, tips for living with autoimmune disease.

Beyond Men’s Health Month

June is Men’s Health Month, but our efforts to raise awareness for men with autoimmune disease is a year-round commitment. We continue to encourage males with autoimmune disease to share their stories. Reach out to us at [email protected] if you’d like to become involved.

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