Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can affect anyone, including young women. In fact, it is more common in women than men. Even some studies suggest that the disease is also often more difficult to treat and more severe in women. Early prompt treatment is important to control the disease and prevent its serious complications. What are the symptoms?
Although RA is not as common as osteoarthritis (the most common form of arthritis), it affects about 1.5 million people in the U.S – according to NIAMs (the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases).
It can affect people of all ethnic and racial groups. But interestingly, again women have a higher-than-normal risk. Even the risk of developing the disease is 2-3 times higher among women, why?
This issue is not fully understood yet, but there are some possible reasons. It’s thought that environmental factors (such as smoking) and genetics might have a role, according to CDC. Furthermore, the fluctuation of certain female hormones also takes attention.
Estrogen that fluctuates over time, for example, is being investigated in some studies to see whether or not there is any correlation. In fact, RA is also quite common in women of childbearing age (between 25 and 45 years old).
The bad news, RA in women is more difficult to treat. For example, they are less likely to have remission even though if they get prompt treatment.
Women also tend to have greater disease severity. According to a research in 2012, conducted by the Arthritis Care and Research, the disease was more severe in women. This research involved 10,299 patients – and 7,893 of them women.
On the other hand, men are more likely to have remission earlier, especially if they get early prompt treatment. And RA also tends to cause fewer and mild symptoms in men, even if they have the same level of the disease as women.
It seems that the disease is not only more common in women, but also it acts in different ways for each gender.
RA is an autoimmune disease, a condition of when the body immune system attacks its own healthy tissue. The abnormality of this immune system is systemic. Still, RA primarily affects the joint – that’s why it’s called arthritis. But it can also cause problem in other parts of the body (including those that have nothing to do with the joint).
However, having RA is not the end of everything. Again it is treatable and controllable, even though it’s not easy to cope with.
Although RA is often diagnosed later in life, this doesn’t mean that there is no risk for young women. Even if compared to men, the disease is more likely to strike women at a younger age.
For anyone with this chronic inflammatory arthritis, including young women, the key is to take the treatment promptly. Early stage of the disease is much easier to handle, and the complications can be optimally prevented. But it’s more difficult to treat if it has become advanced and caused its complications, leading to poor prognosis and life expectancy.
RA complications can range from mild to serious. The main ones are as follows:
- Complications associated with joint structures. RA can lead to problems of joint and bone health such as joint damage and osteoporosis.
- Complications in non-joint structures. The effect of RA is systemic, it can cause problems in other many parts of the body such as heart disease, anemia, skin problem, Sjogren’s syndrome, lung disease (rheumatoid lung for example), and even increased risk of lymphoma (a group of cancers that form in the lymph system).
- RA can also cause lifestyle disruption such as disability and sleep problem – as well as psychological problems such as depression, anxiety, and loss of self-esteem.
Early treatment can significantly improve the prognosis of the disease! But it’s not always easy to diagnose the disease early. In fact, there are also other medical conditions that can resemble RA, such as:
- Other types of arthritis like osteoarthritis, gout, and psoriatic arthritis.
- Fibromyalgia. It is a disorder in which the way of how the brain processes the pain signals goes awry, causing widespread musculoskeletal pain. The bad news, some young women with RA may also experience fibromyalgia.
- Lyme disease, an infectious disease caused by certain bacteria. It can cause symptoms that mimic RA such as joint pain.
- Lupus, another inflammatory disease caused by the abnormality of immune system. It is not always easy to diagnose since it often comes with symptoms similar to other conditions. The most classic symptom is a facial rash that looks like the wings of a butterfly, but it doesn’t appear in all cases.
- Other ailments that mimic RA include vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels), joint with torn cartilage, certain viral diseases, and polymyalgia rheumatic (an inflammatory condition that causes muscle stiffness and pain).
The symptoms of RA in young women may vary. But the main ones are as follows: