Rheumatic Diseases’ Impact On Women
As immediate past president of the American College of Rheumatology, Dr. Uknis sat down with AutoimmuneMom’s friends at the Simple Tasks campaign to share her insight and discuss the impact of rheumatic diseases on women. The Simple Tasks campaign regularly works with rheumatologists to raise awareness of rheumatic diseases and highlight the vital role a rheumatologist plays in the care of patients living with these diseases. Most often, rheumatic diseases strike during the prime of life, impacting a woman’s career, child bearing ability, family care responsibilities and daily life
How are women disproportionately impacted by rheumatic diseases?
Although the reason is unclear, we do know that women are affected by many rheumatic diseases more often than men. For example:
- One in 12 women will develop a rheumatic disease during her lifetime, likely to be affected during the prime of her life.
- 90% of those living with lupus are women between 15 and 45. It is eight to ten times more likely for women to develop Lupus than men.
- 75% of American adults with rheumatoid arthritis are women. Women are two to three times more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than men.
- The most common condition that affects the joints, osteoarthritis, is found more frequently in women than in men, and it is more disabling in women.
What is the biggest issue for women living with rheumatic diseases?
Many of these diseases affect women during child bearing age, impacting their fertility and potential pregnancies. Each woman’s rheumatic disease should be well under control for a period of at least three to six months before attempting pregnancy. As long as your medicines are not harmful to the fetus, you should remain on your medicines to prevent risk of a disease flare. In particular, hydroxychloroquine is a very safe drug during pregnancy and lactation.
Are there symptoms that are specific to women? Or more prevalent in women?
Many rheumatic diseases are more prevalent in woman than men. Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma and fibromyalgia are more common among women. There are several common symptoms of arthritis and other rheumatic diseases:
- Joint pain or joint swelling
- Join pain and/or tenderness that is chronic
- Joints that have redness and/or warmth
- Joints with limited movement capabilities
It is not yet clear why women are affected by these rheumatic diseases more often than men; this may mean that hormones or other differences between men and women play a role in the development of these diseases.
What are some of the simple tasks you see female patients struggle with most because of rheumatic disease?
There are certain aspects of daily life that may become more challenging for women living with rheumatic disease. Fatigue may limit endurance for usual activities, and some women many find they have more difficulty with even the simplest tasks, like brushing their hair or dressing themselves. Also, some aspects of childcare like picking up children and playing with them on the floor can become more difficult with rheumatic disease. Women should not be afraid to modify these activities or ask for assistance when needed.
What advice do you offer to female patients on dealing with the emotional strain of rheumatic disease?
New, powerful treatments are making it possible for many women to continue living full, active lives. They are continuing their careers, having families and enjoying leisure activities. However, when you receive a diagnosis of a rheumatic condition, it’s normal to experience different emotions. Some women may feel relief at finally knowing the cause of their symptoms, as well as uncertainty or concern about what the future may hold. In addition, some may wonder if and when it’s appropriate to share the news of your diagnosis with others.
Women should speak with their rheumatologist about how their diagnosis may affect their daily activities. If your work involves physical labor or long hours of standing (such as retail sales or food service), your rheumatic disease may make this painful or tiring. Discuss what modifications you may need for your job, or if an evaluation by an occupational therapy might help to modify your work setting or arrangements.
Where do you find that many of your female patients find support?
It’s important to build a network of support among those close to you, so they can provide support as you cope with your disease and follow your treatment plan. Anything that makes patients feel more powerful, more in control and better able to manage the condition will be helpful. Patients should not forget to enlist the assistance of family, spouses or others who are important in their lives. The more they know about the condition and managing it, the more support they can offer. Patient support groups can also be a great place to build a network of support. I recommend patients look online to find support groups in their area.
Your rheumatologist can also be a great resource for information and support. In addition to providing ongoing care, your rheumatologist can be a wonderful resource. Rheumatologist specialized in treatment of rheumatic disease and they can be a wonderful source of information to help you live well with rheumatic disease. I n addition to providing ongoing care over, your rheumatologist can give you information about things related to rheumatic disease, like local patient groups, drug trials or patient education.
About the Author
Audrey B. Uknis, MD, is the immediate past president of the American College of Rheumatology as well as a rheumatologist and professor at Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
This blog post was originally published by AutoimmuneMom.com, written by Audrey B. Uknis, and first published on Mar 22, 2014.
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