There are many diseases that are more prevalent in women than in men. Some of these are common and well known and others are diseases most people are unaware of occurring so regular in women. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (2009), these diseases that are less likely to be known are referred to as “the hidden diseases secretly attacking women’s health. ” One of these health conditions is called Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) which is an autoimmune disease that affects joint tissue causing swelling and pain.
Statistics show that RA is significantly more common in women than men and that age plays a factor in the development. The most common joints that are affected by RA are the feet, knees, ankles, elbows, wrists, and fingers. “The cause of RA is still unknown but is likely a combination of genetic factors interacting with inflammatory mediators” (Sue E. Huether, 2008). Overall the interaction between these two components causes significant cartilage damage due to many types of cells and compounds that become activating agents in degrading the surface of the articular cartilage.
As the cartilage is damaged, it is digested by the synovium and then inflammatory molecules are released in response to the degradation. Inflammation causes swelling which creates the synovial membrane to thicken and the cells of the membrane to enlarge abnormally, vascular flow is interrupted and between the hypertrophy and lack of proper circulation the body experiences metabolic acidosis. Synovial cells react to acidosis and release enzymes that cause the breakdown of articular cartilage and inflames the surrounding tendons and ligaments.
Risk factors for RA include your sex, as women are 3 times more likely to develop this disease than men, your age, which can begin at any time but is most likely to occur between the ages of 40 and 60, and your family history of RA (Mayo Clinic, 2014). Signs and symptoms of RA generally come on slowly. These symptoms may include fever, fatigue, weakness, weight loss, generalized aching and stiffness (Huether, 2008). In the beginning stages of this disease the joints become painful tender and stiff due to the swelling of the tissues and as progression occurs pain is caused more from the hardening of body tissues.
To the touch the joints can feel warm and the overlaying skin may appear thin and shiny. Physical limitations develop as the joints change in shape and become deformed. Hands and fingers and feet and toes curl and harden as they shift out of place. A person who develops Rheumatoid Arthritis becomes a higher risk for developing other problems. Some medications that are used to treat RA can cause weakening of the bones which can develop into Osteoporosis. Heart problem become more likely due to the hardening of tissues that RA causes.
If arteries become hardened this can prevent proper blood in and out of the heart. Lungs are also affected because the body is at more of a risk of the lung tissue becoming inflamed and developing scar tissue which can make it difficult to breathe (Mayo Clinic, 2014). There is no cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis. Treatment includes medications that can reduce swelling and potentially slow the progression of the disease. Depending on the seriousness of the stage of RA that a person is experiencing surgery may be required.
While the medications may reduce the swelling and eliminate some of the pain, they also can cause serious side effects such as heart problems, liver and kidney damage, hair loss, nausea, lung problems and because some medications are immunosuppressant’s you are increasing the likelihood of other infections in the body. As the body changes coping with these changes can be difficult. The better a person copes, the better they can handle their normal daily activities. For a person suffering from RA, consulting with the physician on a regular basis is important.
The physician can give guidelines on how to cope better by suggesting things such as resting often when you are tired. It is also important to connect with others and stay in touch with family and friends, and find someone that you can rely on to talk about the situation when feeling stressed out, in pain or overwhelmed. Most importantly, finding time for yourself for the things you enjoy is important. Continue to do things you are used to doing to relieve your own stress.
Go for a walk, listen to music, write in a journal or find a quiet place to sit and reflect and relax. It is apparent that a person should be aware of not only common diseases but also diseases that are less common. Hidden diseases themselves may not be the cause of death in the end but the potential risks that develop due to the primary disease can be deadly. Living a healthy life style and being aware of your body’s signs and symptoms as you age can potentially save you from more significant problems as your body changes.
References Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014, March 15). Advancing women’s health and safety. Retrieved from http://www. cdc. gov/women/ Huether, S. , & McCance K. (2008). Understanding Pathophysiology (4th Edition) Salt Lake City, Utah Mayo Clinic (2014, March 15). Diseases and Conditions Rheumatoid arthritis. Retrieved from http://www. mayoclinic. org/diseases-conditions/rheumatoid-arthritis/basics/risk-factors/ con-20014868.