Predicting a life expectancy (prognosis) for rheumatoid arthritis in men is not always easy, because there are a number of different factors that can affect the outcome of the disease. Each case is unique, and there is no formula that can tell you exactly what will happen. But in general, the disease is relatively easier to treat when it has not become advanced.
Rheumatoid arthritis, also called ‘RA’, is a systemic inflammatory disease in which the immune system goes awry and mistakenly attacks its own healthy tissues. Systemic means it’s not only about joint problem, because the disease can also affect other parts of the body that have nothing to do with the joints.
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Since it’s systemic, it is more difficult to treat than osteoarthritis (another common form of arthritis). But this doesn’t mean that it’s untreatable. With appropriate treatments, it’s controllable and treatable – this is particularly true if it’s caught and treated early.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, about 1.5 million people currently have the disease. Women are at higher risk, they are about 3 times more likely than men to develop it. But although it has been seen as a women’s disease, it can also affect men!
Besides gender, other risk factors of the disease are as follows:
- A family history of RA (genetic factor), especially if you have a first degree relative (such as parent, sister, or brother) with the disease.
- It seems that gaining more pounds of weight may also increase the risk.
- The disease is usually diagnosed at the ages of 40 and 60, though sometimes it develops earlier in life.
- A personal history of a smoker. Cigarette smoking is linked to increased risk of the disease and greater disease severity.
- Some environmental factors, bacterial and viral infections for example, may also have an effect.
Even though if you’re a man, your risk of developing the disease is high if you have many of risk factors mentioned above. So there is no ‘macho factor’ – again anyone, including men, can have it!
Symptoms and severity of the disease can vary from man to man. And although in female patients symptoms are typically more severe and the disease can potentially involve more complications, this doesn’t mean that male patients are easier to cope with the disease.
RA has a number of symptoms and complications. Like most things in arthritis, RA primarily affects the joints, causing classic symptoms of arthritis such as joint pain, tenderness, swollen, and stiffness. But again, it is systemic.
Symptoms that appear are dependent on how far the disease has progressed. At first, it usually affects the smaller joints such as small joints that attach the toes to the feet or the fingers to the hands. In time, it then affects other larger joints. It can cause serious damage to your cartilage, tendons, or ligaments!
What make it different from osteoarthritis, it can affect joints throughout your body and other organs that have nothing to do with your joints (see also more differences between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis). RA can affect lots of non-joint structures such as blood vessels, heart, nerve tissues, bone marrow, kidneys, lungs, eyes, and even skin.
While RA symptoms in men are less severe than women have, they can also experience a number of serious complications as a result of the disease! Some of these complications include:
- The risk of developing joint deformities.
- Nodules under the skin (see more in here).
- Cardiovascular disease. RA increases the risk of developing hardened and blocked arteries, as well as the risk of developing inflammation of the heart muscles and outer lining of your heart.
- The link between RA and diabetes is not fully known. But some experts believe that systemic inflammation of the disease may contribute to cause insulin resistance.
- Bone fractures, osteoporosis.
- Anemia (lack of red blood cells).
- Eye inflammation.
- More prone to have infections.
Men with RA are also at high risk for lung disease or even cancer. According to JHAC (the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center), the disease increases the risk of developing inflammation and blockage in the lung’s small airways. In fact lung problem is one of common causes of death in people with RA.
Lymphoma, a group of cancers affecting lymphatic system and white blood cells, is quite common in patients with this systemic inflammatory arthritis – this is particularly true of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Interestingly people with RA might have lower risk of colorectal cancer, though this issue is not clearly yet.
The exact prognosis (life expectancy) is very difficult or even almost impossible to predict due to a number of reasons such as the varying nature of the disease. There are also great differences in the progression of the disease!
In general, the life expectancy of people with RA could be shortened by roughly 10-15 years. Interestingly, some patients have an average expected lifespan. Even sometimes they can live well into their 80’s or even 90s! This suggests that having RA is not the end of everything.
If you’re diagnosed with the disease, the following are a number of factors that can affect your prognosis: