- By Dr Dipti Patel, Rheumatologist at Wockhardt Hospital Mumbai Central
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that is known to affect women more than men. This is mainly due to the presence of female hormones in women. If you have observed that most of the women around you seem to have rheumatoid arthritis more than the men, you are not wrong.
What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is a joint disorder that results in inflammation of joints and can cause pain and stiffness. Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease and an autoimmune disorder which means that your body’s immune system attacks its own healthy cells resulting in inflammation of the affected parts.
Why Rheumatoid Arthritis Affects Women?
Research shows that rheumatoid arthritis affects more women than men with increased intensity. Women seem to report more severe and frequent symptoms. The age and gender play an important role in the development of rheumatoid arthritis. Women are prone to developing autoimmune disorders more often than men. This is probably because it is likely that the immune system of women is far more reactive and stronger. The main cause behind this disparity are the hormones. Women have hormones that increase the risk of rheumatoid arthritis and cause more flare ups.
Role Of Hormones In Rheumatoid Arthritis
While the exact mechanism behind hormones and rheumatoid arthritis is unknown, it has been observed that rheumatoid arthritis affects women when there is a shift in hormonal levels in them. Rheumatoid arthritis affects women more during hormonal imbalance due to post-pregnancy or pre-menopause. Women who are prone to developing rheumatoid arthritis may develop it during their reproductive years. They may see an improvement in their symptoms during pregnancy. There are chances of flare up after having your baby. This suggests that there is a strong link between rheumatoid arthritis and hormones. Breastfeeding for 2 years or more has been known to reduce the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
Symptoms Of Rheumatoid Arthritis
While gender plays an important role in the development of rheumatoid arthritis, age also seems to have a great impact. Women are more prone to developing rheumatoid arthritis than men and the symptoms usually appear during the 3rd to the 5th decade of life.
Signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include -
- Aches and pains of more than one joint
- Stiffness of the joints
- Swelling and tenderness of the joints
- Weight loss
- Fatigue or tired feeling
- Mirroring of symptoms - both sides of the body are affected like pain in both hands or both feet or both knees
Diagnosis Of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is primarily diagnosed clinically based on the symptoms and a thorough clinical examination. Laboratory tests and x-rays help confirm the diagnosis. If you happen to observe any of the above symptoms, consult your physician right away. Diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis early, within the first 6 months from onset of symptoms can help reduce or stop the progression of the disease and will also decrease the chances of complications. Effective and early treatment to suppress and control the inflammatory process will help decrease the harmful effects of rheumatoid arthritis.
Living With Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis affects most parts of your daily routine including work, leisure, and other social activities. The idea is to achieve a good quality of life while living with the disease. Here are a few strategies that you must follow to improve your quality of life with rheumatoid arthritis.
- Physical activity
Staying on the move and keeping yourself active is key to deal with rheumatoid arthritis. Regular physical activity also helps reduce the risk of other chronic ailments like heart disease, depression, diabetes, hypertension, obesity. You could go walking or jogging daily, or try swimming or biking for 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week. Moderate physical activity for 150 minutes per week is key to maintain flexibility with rheumatoid arthritis. You could also split the 30 minutes into 3 sets of 10 minutes through the day.
- Mental relaxation
All autoimmune disorders are linked to your mental state. The more stressed and anxious you tend to be, the higher the chances of developing autoimmune diseases. Try some relaxation techniques to keep your mind calm ad composed. Learn to stay relaxed and go about your day. Try not to stress on every small aspect that will in turn result in worsening of your symptoms.
- Healthy body weight
Maintaining a healthy body weight is key to manage your rheumatoid arthritis. Obesity is the number one cause of most health problems. Eat good, nutrient-dense healthy food and include basic forms of exercise in your daily routine to maintain your ideal body weight.
Rheumatoid arthritis may be commoner in women, but it need not decrease your enthusiasm. With early diagnosis and proper treatment, you can live a pain-free healthy life.