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Rheumatoid Arthritis in Women: How it’s different. How it’s treated

More than 1.5 million Americans have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and women are affected 3 times more often than men. Read the following Q&A with the Dr. Samir Bhangle and Dr. Sonita Mendoza, of Wentworth Health Partners Seacoast Arthritis & Osteoporosis, to learn more about this condition.

What is RA is and how does it affect women?

RA is a type of arthritis that is triggered by a dysfunction in how the immune system works. The immune cells are dysregulated and produce molecules that inflame the tissues in the joint.  If the inflammation is not controlled, it can lead to joint damage. RA usually occurs in younger women, usually during reproductive age from 25-45. However, there is a type of RA that can also occur in children, and it can also develop for the first time in the elderly. Therefore, RA can occur at just about any age. The symptoms usually involve pain, swelling and stiffness of the small joints of the hands and feet. However, RA can affect any joint.

Do hormones play a part in RA?

RA is more common in women than in men. Thus, it is believed that hormones may play a role. Hormones have several effects on the immune system and can affect how autoimmune disease may occur.

How do RA symptoms differ between women and men?

Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in women are the same as those in men despite this disorder being 3 times more common in women.

How is RA treated in women? Is treatment different?

RA treatment requires use of medicines that suppress the immune system /response.  

Since many of the women diagnosed with RA are in their childbearing years, we need to consider what medications to prescribe as some can’t be given during pregnancy/breastfeeding. We also need to counsel about precautions to avoid getting pregnant, especially if the disease is not well controlled

What is the prognosis for women with RA?

The prognosis for women with RA is extremely good if their disease is diagnosed early and appropriate treatments are started immediately. Not all medications work for everybody, so for some patients it may take a while to find the right medicine or combination of medicines that will put their RA in remission. There are now powerful medicines that put the disease in remission, and therefore we rarely see patients with joint deformities.

Can we prevent RA with lifestyle modifications?

At this time there is no data to say that changes in lifestyle can prevent RA. It is believed that there is a genetic predisposition for developing RA, however, there are many other yet undefined factors that also come into play. At this time, the cause of RA is not known.

What should a woman do if she suspects she may have RA?

She should go see her primary care provider to obtain a referral to a rheumatologist.


To learn more about the care of rheumatoid arthritis, contact Seacoast Arthritis & Osteoporosis at (603) 742-6664.

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