Amy Lee, NP
Women and Arthritis
by Amy Lee
I remember working with a lady in California who had recently been diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia was just being discovered and at that time many people thought it wasn't a real disorder. But I knew this woman was in a lot of pain—and how could something that was so debilitating not be a real disorder?
Many years have passed since then and the diagnosis of fibromyalgia is still evolving. Perhaps the most interesting revelation is that fibromyalgia is part of a group of disorders that are considered to be arthritis—a term used to describe a variety of diseases and conditions that cause pain and swelling in the joints, surrounding tissue, and other connective tissues.
Approximately 46 million Americans have some type of arthritis or related condition. While these conditions may affect anyone, they are more common in women. In fact, sixty percent of all people with arthritis are women.
The most common arthritic ailments for women Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that is the most common form of arthritis and that usually occurs after the age of 40. Of the 27 million Americans with osteoarthritis, 16 million are women. Fibromyalgia is a syndrome characterized by generalized musculoskeletal pain. Approximately 3.7 million Americans have fibromyalgia. Rheumatoid arthritis is an abnormal immune response (where the body’s immune system goes awry and starts attacking healthy tissues). Rheumatoid arthritis, which leads to joint and organ inflammation, is most common between the ages of 25 to 50. Approximately 1.3 million women have rheumatoid arthritis, and women outnumber men by 2.5 to 1. Lupus is also an abnormal immune disorder that may cause inflammation of the joints, skin, kidneys, and other body parts. Of the 240,000 Americans with lupus, 90 percent are women. Osteoporosis is bone loss resulting in brittle bones that can lead to painful fractures. Osteoporosis affects approximately 28 million Americans with 4 of every 5 of them being women. Other less common arthritis-related disorders that are more common in women include Raynaud’s phenomenon, Sjogren’s syndrome, and polymyalgia rheumatica.
How to manage arthritis
You can’t prevent most arthritis-related disorders, but you can manage them. Early diagnosis and intervention is important to controlling the symptoms and pain associated with arthritis. Always know about any medications you are taking and their side effects. Physical activity can also help manage the pain and stiffness associated with arthritis. Finally, protecting your joints is critical throughout life.
If you have joint pain and swelling, or pain and swelling of the connective tissues in any area of your body, see your healthcare provider to discuss the possibility of an arthritis-related condition.