Though systemic lupus erythematosus is often thought of as a women’s health issue, the truth is men get lupus, too. And while the prevalence of lupus in women is great –- nearly 90% of lupus patients between ages 15 to 45 are women –- men shouldn’t discount both the potential of getting lupus and the seriousness with which the disease presents.
Is there difference?
A question that often crops up when discussing lupus in women and men is whether the disease affects the sexes differently. A number of studies have been conducted to see if differences exist, though results vary -– almost as much as the differences in the tests themselves (how they were conducted, number of male patients, racial and ethnic backgrounds). Still, some differences were noted.
Symptoms more common in men:
- Pleurisy (inflammation of the sac around the lungs)
- Renal (kidney) disease
- Discoid lupus (reddish, scaly skin)
- Hemolytic anemia (from the destruction of red blood cells)
- Lupus anticoagulant (can promote abnormal blood clotting)
And while those differences may exist, lupus’ similarities in men and women, especially with regard to symptom manifestations, are many. For example, while discoid lupus may be more common in males, lesions look the same in both sexes.
What Causes Lupus in Men?
More questions than answers exist when it comes to discussing lupus, and why the disease affects so many more women than men is one of them.
A potential answer might lie with the role of sex hormones -– estrogen, commonly associated with women, and androgen, commonly associated with men. “Commonly associated” because both hormones are produced in both sexes, and are not exclusive to one sex or the other.
It is thought that estrogen may encourage the development of autoimmune disorders, while androgens may offer some protection. So, the higher levels of estrogen in women may –- may -– be one reason why the disease is more prevalent in females. Low levels of androgen in men are thought to connect to development of the disease in males.
Whatever the reason, it is important to remember that lupus isn’t solely associated with women, and that men can get the disease, too. So if you’re a man and you’ve reason to suspect you could have lupus, speak to your healthcare professional.
Sources: The Many Shades of Lupus: Information for Multicultural Communities. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.