Gender Differences In Arthritis
Are women more likely to have arthritis than men? When discussing rheumatoid arthritis, the answer is yes. Although the symptoms for men and women are similar, there are some differences early on. And when evaluating ankylosing spondylitis, there can be some concerns specific to women.
What is ankylosing spondylitis?
Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a specific type of arthritis that causes spinal pain. For both men and women, the most common symptom of AS is back pain. However, women may also experience more hip, neck, and knee pain because of the condition. Historically, many experts believed that AS primarily affected men. Now, research has shown that women also suffer from the condition, although women are less likely to be diagnosed than men.
Other types of arthritis
Some forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), also exhibit differently in men vs. women. For example, RA typically shows up sooner in women around the ages of 30-50. About 20% of women even experience RA nodules, which are firm, raised lumps underneath the skin. Women with specific hormonal conditions, such as endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) may have a higher chance of developing RA.
Starting with medication
The goal of all arthritis treatment is to relieve pain and stiffness. With ankylosing spondylitis, healthcare providers also want to prevent spinal deformity and potential complications. Typically, the first line of treatment is pain-relieving medicines, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). If these medications don’t work, a pain management specialist may prescribe tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blockers or interleukin-17 (IL-17) inhibitors.
Many arthritis patients can benefit significantly from physical therapy. A physical therapist designs a specialized exercise plan to help patients decrease pain while improving strength and flexibility. The program may involve a combination of stretching and range-of-motion exercises. Over time, these movements help re-train individuals to maintain better posture and move more optimally.
Although the point can feel counterintuitive, patients with arthritis can benefit from regular exercise. Moving consistently helps to maintain flexibility and strength. When pain flares up, patients may also try hot and cold therapy at home. The heat helps to ease stiffness while cold therapy helps to reduce swelling and inflammation.
In the majority of cases, patients with ankylosing spondylitis won’t require surgery. However, if there is severe joint damage, a doctor may recommend surgical intervention. For more information about arthritis treatment, speak with a healthcare provider.