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Rheumatoid Arthritis: Why Women Need To Be More Vigilant

Rheumatoid arthritis commonly affects young women during their prime and often early diagnosis is missed because of public ignorance about the disease and social misconceptions.

Rheumatoid Arthritis: Why Women Need To Be More Vigilant

Rheumatoid arthritis causes pain and stiffness in joints


  1. Early diagnosis is important for management of rheumatoid arthritis
  2. It causes pain and swelling in joints
  3. The condition needs to be treated by a rheumatologist

It is a widely accepted fact that women, particularly in India, tend to prioritize their family's health before their own. Often, they do not confide even in their spouse or close family members when they face any health issues, unless the situation starts to get out of control and starts affecting her daily life. It is time to change this and persuade women to pay greater heed to their health and symptoms for a disease like rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The early symptoms of joint pain and swelling are very important for diagnosis of RA which is paramount for better treatment, outcome, and reducing disability and deformity.

Rheumatoid arthritis: Why early diagnosis is important

Rheumatoid arthritis is also known as a "silent killer" as most of the time the initial presentation is insidious, but with time the joints and other vital organs (heart, lungs, kidneys etc.) get diseased. It is important that women learn to recognise its early symptoms such as fatigue, early morning stiffness that can last for hours and swelling or pain in small joints of the hands. Rheumatoid arthritis commonly affects young women during their prime and often early diagnosis is missed because of public ignorance about the disease and social misconceptions. Early visit to an experienced physician or rheumatologist can not only change the life of a young women but that of whole family, as Indian families almost totally depend on women who are the homemakers.

Also read: Arthritis In Hands: Do Not Let The Pain Worsen In Winters With These Simple Steps

Women need to confide in people they trust

Rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive disease unless treated. While with appropriate timely treatment, the condition can be controlled up to the stage of complete remission (symptom-free). It is important for the family, especially the spouse to lend physical, emotional and social support in the patient's long treatment journey in all possible ways. At the same time, it is also important to reassure patients that they are not a burden on the family because of their illness.

Unlike many other illnesses, you can't always tell when a person with RA is feeling their worst because of which, others cannot understand if the patient is having acute disease flare and every small activity is agonizingly painful. Household activities such as kneading dough, washing and cleaning become increasingly difficult, even tasks like picking up a cup, spoon or walking across the street fatigues patients.

It is equally important for family members and coworkers to observe when a patient with active RA shows symptoms of pain or takes longer than usual to complete a task. They should immediately offer their support, so that over time the patient develops confidence in sharing their discomfort.

Also read: Understanding The Different Types Of Arthritis

RA is not another form of osteoarthritis

It is essential to understand that degenerative osteoarthritis, which most commonly affects ageing knees, is different from rheumatoid arthritis, which more commonly affects small joints of hands and feet. While the former is caused by wear and tear of the joint cartilage; rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder in which immune system attacks the body's own tissues and joints.

RA can affect the whole family

A 2012 survey by National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society indicated that 93% people reported that their partner's RA affected their own mood or mental wellbeing and 60% felt that their social life was restricted because of their partner's condition. The data clearly reflects that RA not just affects the patients but also the entire family.

A painkiller is not the solution to manage RA

There is deep misconception about rheumatoid arthritis in Indian society. People think pain killers are the mainstay of treatment and that modern medicine has significant side effect and minimal therapeutic value. A large number of people still get themselves treated by unqualified persons and with complementary alternative/ ayurvedic medicines (CAM), which leads to delay in diagnosis and treatment. Today there are many disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) available, which have proven efficacy and minimal adverse effects. These medicines if given in early stages can completely arrest the disease and prevent damage to joints and functional disability. Other ways of improving the quality of life for RA patients includes physical therapy, exercise, counselling and rehabilitation medicine.

With proper management and support, patients with RA can enjoy a normal life and when they say 'I am fine' we can truly believe in them.

Also read: Bone Deformities, Diabetes And Other Risks Associated With Rheumatoid Arthritis

(Dr Ghanshyam Pangtey, Professor of Medicine, In-charge Rheumatology Clinic and MICU, Lady Hardinge Medical College, New Delhi)

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