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Women over 40 at risk for RA
By Debi Vieceli

Debi VieceliWomen over 40 can be at risk for rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a painful inflammatory disorder that affects the small joints in their hands and feet. RA is considered one of the most painful and disabling forms of arthritis and is a condition that has long been feared. It is the second-most common form of arthritis, after osteoarthritis.

This chronic autoimmune disorder – which is three times more common in women than in men – affects the lining of joints. The result can be painful swelling that can lead to bone erosion and joint deformity.

At least 1.3 million adults in the United States have RA, which is a condition without a cure, but which can be controlled through early diagnosis and aggressive treatment. Less common is juvenile RA, which affects children before age 16.

An autoimmune disorder occurs when an immune system mistakenly attacks its own body's tissues. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, the skin, eyes, lungs and blood vessels can be affected. It can cause damage to the cartilage, connective tissue, and bones.

The joints most commonly affected are feet, ankles, knees, elbows, shoulders, wrists, hands and fingers. RA affects joints in a symmetrical fashion, so if one hand or wrist is inflamed, the other hand or wrist likely will soon be also.

What causes the immune system to function incorrectly is not known. The vast majority of people with RA have no family history of the disease.

RA is difficult to diagnose. Not only are the symptoms similar to other illnesses, but they also can fade, come back, fade and then reappear elsewhere in the body.

Here are some symptoms of RA:

  • Tender, warm, swollen joints
  • Morning stiffness that lasts for hours
  • Rheumatoid nodules, which are firm bumps of tissue under the skin on your arms
  • Fatigue, fever, and weight loss

If you or your primary care physician suspects you have RA, you should see a rheumatologist as soon as possible. The earlier you start treatment, the less chance for damage.

DEBI VIECELI is a Care Manager for UPMC Health Plan. For more information about women's health, visit https://www.upmchealthplan.com/members/learn/womens-health

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