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Arthritis In Women

  • Osteoarthritis (OA):
  • Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis.  It develops when cartilage (the smooth covering over the bones in your joints), starts to break down, usually as a result of aging, trauma, or increased wear and tear.  As it worsens, OA can cause bone-on-bone friction.  There are several patterns of joint involvement in OA, most of which involve only a few joints.  The most common pattern involves the major weight-bearing joints such as the hips, knees or lower spine.  Most forms of OA become symptomatic after age 50.

    OA of the hands is a distinct subtype of OA, and very common in women.  This type of arthritis can often begin when a woman is in her 20's or 30's.  Unlike the gradual onset of other types of OA, this type can begin suddenly and can be quite painful.  This is progressive and causes classic deformities of the fingers with enlarged joints.  Eventually, this condition runs its course and the pain subsides, but the deformities remain.

    This should not be confused with "osteoporosis" (weak or brittle bones which can lead to an increased risk of fracture), although many women (especially those who have gone through menopause) may have both of these conditions simultaneously.  Certain types of arthritis-or medications used to treat arthritis-may increase your risk of osteoporosis; discuss this with your physician.

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis  (RA):
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a systemic autoimmune disease in which immune cells attack and inflame the membranes around various joints.  Like all autoimmune diseases, it is usually chronic and relapsing and has no known cause.  It affects 2% of people worldwide and is three to four times as common in women than in men. 

    Resulting symptoms are inflamed, swollen, painful, and/or deformed joints.  Unlike OA, which generally affects few joints at a time, RA is generally symmetric and affects many joints simultaneously.  It can cause functional limitations in half of its patients within 5 years of disease onset and decreases life expectancy as well.  RA can also affect the connective tissues of the body and other organs such as the lungs, heart or nervous system. 

    Prevailing myths (see below) hold that arthritis is a disease of aging.  Yet infants can be affected from birth with a form of RA called Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA).  This is a much more serious and complicated form of RA, which affects apr. 300,000 children in the US; JRA is one of the most prevalent chronic illnesses among youngsters, affecting more children than juvenile diabetes or cerebral palsy.  Thankfully and mysteriously, some patients eventually go into remission.  Others battle the symptoms for their entire lives.  Unfortunately, despite the recent availability of many breakthrough new therapies, many go untreated because of a lack of awareness or education, both on their parents' parts and their physicians'.

  • Other types of Arthritis:
  • Certain types of infection (such as Lyme disease and syphilis) are known to cause a persistent arthritis.  Successful treatment of the infection itself does not always eliminate the residual arthritis, which can mimic OA, RA, or a mixed form.  Other autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) also cause arthritis and fibromyalgia has many similar symptoms.  In women, these symptoms may often flare up with menses.

    Other types of arthritis: spondyloarthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, scleroderma, bursitis, tendonitis, myofascial pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, infectious arthritis, polymyalgia rheumatica, dermatomyositis, and Reiter's Syndrome to name only a few.

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 Arthritis is the major cause of disability and chronic pain in Americans. 

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