Rheumatoid arthritis in women, higher mortality risk, symptoms, and treatment

By: Emily Lunardo | Arthritis | Monday, February 29, 2016 - 02:00 PM

Rheumatoid arthritis in womenRheumatoid arthritis (RA) in women increases the risk of all-cause mortality, compared to women without the disease. Specifically, women with rheumatoid arthritis are more likely to develop respiratory issues.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic condition, which causes pain and stiffness, and limits mobility, too. Inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis doesn’t solely affect the joints. It can cause inflammation on other organs as well. Lastly, rheumatoid arthritis affects women more than men.

Using data from the Nurses’ Health Study, researchers validated 964 incidences of rheumatoid arthritis and uncovered 28,808 deaths in the entire cohort. Of 307 deaths among women with rheumatoid arthritis, 26 percent were from cancer, 32 percent were from cardiovascular disease, and 16 percent were caused by respiratory condition. Among the deaths in women without rheumatoid arthritis, cancer was accountable for 41 percent of deaths, 22 percent were caused by cardiovascular disease, and seven percent were caused by respiratory condition.

The researchers found that rheumatoid arthritis women had a 40 percent higher risk of all-cause mortality, compared to women without rheumatoid arthritis.

Lead author of the study Dr. Jeffrey Sparks said, “We aimed to study deaths and causes of death in a cohort in which women have been followed very closely before and after development of RA and directly compared to women without RA. All the participants in this study had repeated assessment of behavioral factors, such as cigarette smoking, comorbid diseases such as cardiovascular disease, and other mortality risk factors, enabling us to study the independent effect of having RA on the risk of death.”

Having rheumatoid arthritis for at least five years increased the risk of mortality by 11 percent and having seropositive rheumatoid arthritis tripled the risk of respiratory mortality.

Dr. Sparks concluded, “This study highlights the clinical necessity of recognizing and addressing complications of RA, such as respiratory disease and cardiovascular disease, which associated with early mortality.”

Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms in women

Women are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, compared to men, and so it’s important to spot the symptoms early on and begin treatment and preventative measures in order to slow down its progression. Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms in women include:

  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Pain and swelling in the joints
  • Low-grade fever
  • Low-appetite and weight loss
  • Eye irritation
  • Foot pain
  • Morning stiffness in joints
  • Nodules that grow beneath the skin – most commonly found on the elbows

If you begin to notice these symptoms, speak with your doctor right away and begin testing for rheumatoid arthritis.

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