Rheumatoid Arthritis is an inflammatory, autoimmune condition. Rheumatoid Arthritis happens when a person’s immune system becomes confused, attacking its healthy cells. It primarily affects the joints but can cause damage to other body parts as well.
While anyone can develop Rheumatoid Arthritis, people assigned female gender at birth are more likely to develop it. The exact cause of Rheumatoid Arthritis is unknown, but researchers have associated it with genetics, environmental and lifestyle triggers, and hormones. Read on to learn more.
HOW COMMON IS RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS IN WOMEN
An estimated 1.5 million people in the U.S. have Rheumatoid Arthritis, but it’s especially common in people assigned female gender at birth. According to research, women are 3 times more likely than men to develop it. While you can get Rheumatoid Arthritis at any age, it most commonly begins between 30 and 60 years of age.
Research suggests that women are most likely to be diagnosed with RA around the time of menopause. On average, the first symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis occur around 45 years of age, and menopause occurs around 49 years of age.
What are the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in women
The symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis are the same, regardless of assigned sex.
Inflammation of the joints due to Rheumatoid Arthritis can cause symptoms such as Pain, Swelling, Stiffness, Warmth, and Redness.
Rheumatoid Arthritis commonly affects joints on both sides of the body. It usually starts in small joints, including those in the hands, wrists, fingers, and feet. But Rheumatoid Arthritis is not always limited to the joints. There are a variety of other early symptoms associated with Rheumatoid Arthritis, including fatigue and sleep disturbances.
Symptoms may come and go in what’s called a “flare-up,” or they can appear and stay. Either way, the symptoms can be very uncomfortable and prompt most people to seek medical care.
THE ROLE OF HORMONES IN RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS
The link between hormones and autoimmunity is complex, and the data are often conflicting. Research suggests that female hormone shifts during pregnancy and menopause may play a role in the development of Rheumatoid Arthritis. Other studies suggest that factors, such as hormone replacement therapy, oral contraceptives, breastfeeding, and pregnancy, may offer protective effects against the development of Rheumatoid Arthritis. They may also serve as risk factors, and it’s not quite clear which is the case.
For those already diagnosed, Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms tend to improve for about 75% of women during pregnancy. But they worsen (or flare) for 90% of women within 6 months of delivery. It’s important to know that hormones aren’t the only factor at play in the development of Rheumatoid Arthritis: Factors like genetics and environmental triggers also contribute. More research is needed to understand the relationships between the immune system and other factors.
DOES RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS AFFECT MEN AND WOMEN DIFFERENTLY
Yes, in part. While everyone will have similar treatments and Rheumatoid Arthritis-related symptoms, research suggests that RA may be more aggressive in women. Women with Rheumatoid Arthritis tend to experience more disability and a greater impact on quality of life.
These effects could be more pronounced later in life. Researchers have found that, in people with Rheumatoid Arthritis, there is a functional decline after menopause. This means that they start having trouble doing daily activities independently.
While the prevalence of Rheumatoid Arthritis is well understood, there’s more to learn about the disease path, treatment success, and wellness factors associated with Rheumatoid Arthritis.
HOW IS RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS TREATED IN WOMEN
While there isn’t a cure, many effective treatments and medications for Rheumatoid Arthritis are available. Treatment strategy does not differ for women versus men.
The goals of treatment are to:
Reduce pain and inflammation, Prevent damage to joints and other organs, and maintain and improve functioning and well-being, Commonly prescribed medications for Rheumatoid Arthritis include disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), such as methotrexate (Rheumatrex) or hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil), and biologic medications, such as Humira or Enbrel. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and glucocorticoids (steroids) may be helpful early to control symptoms and when symptoms flare.
Available treatments can help to decrease joint damage and pain while improving mobility. Remission — having no symptoms —– is more likely with early and aggressive treatment.
STEPS TO TAKE TO PREVENT RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS
There’s no proven way to prevent Rheumatoid Arthritis, but there are ways to reduce your risk and prevent disease progression. Research suggests that smoking and obesity increase the risk of developing Rheumatoid Arthritis. They are also linked to poorer responses to Rheumatoid Arthritis medications. So quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy weight may help reduce your risk of Rheumatoid Arthritis. But it’s easier said than done —– consider reaching out to your healthcare provider if you need help.
Other lifestyle changes may help to decrease your risk of Rheumatoid Arthritis, although they have not been well studied. Research should be able to provide more information on this in the near future.
These healthy steps can improve your overall health in the meantime:
Taking good care of your teeth and gums, Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet, and staying active.
If you have Rheumatoid Arthritis and medications are part of your treatment plan, be sure to take them as directed. This will help prevent further damage to your joints and other organs.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Anyone can get RA, but people who were assigned female at birth are 3 times more likely to develop it. It’s unclear exactly why, but hormones likely play a part. That said, many other factors contribute to the development of RA, so more research is needed. There is no difference in symptoms between women and men, although symptom severity and disability may differ. Early and aggressive treatment for all people with RA is the key to preventing the disease from worsening.