The Women's Health Resource Center
Arthritis and Autoimmune Disease
The term "arthritis" covers many different ailments that cause pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints. Almost 70% of women experience some form of arthritis, making it the most common condition limiting women's daily activities. Prevalence increases with age. 9% of women ages 15 to 44 have arthritis. This increases to over 33% for women aged 45 to 64 and to nearly 56% for women over age 65. Two types of arthritis that most commonly affect women are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, usually occurs after age 40 and is the most common type of arthritis. It is associated with a breakdown of cartilage in joints. It may affect any joint in the body, but commonly occurs in the hips, knees and spine. Also, it often affects the finger joints, the joint at the base of the thumb, and the joint at the base of the big toe.
Cartilage is a firm, rubbery material that covers the ends of bones in normal joints. Its main function is to reduce friction in the joints and serve as a shock absorber for the joints. Osteoarthritis causes the cartilage in a joint to become stiff and lose its elasticity, making it more susceptible to damage. It can cause joints to become enlarged and deformed and hands are especially affected. There are several factors that increase the risk for developing osteoarthritis, including heredity, obesity, injury or overuse of certain joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that is largely determined by a genetic trait. It is caused by the body's own immune system attacking its own cells and organs. Other autoimmune diseases include multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, thyroiditis and lupus. The initiation of the disease can be triggered by infection from viruses or bacteria.
Rheumatoid arthritis usually occurs in people 20 to 50 years old but can affect young children and the elderly. The white blood cells attack the lining of the joints, causing them to become inflamed, swollen, stiff and painful. Rheumatoid arthritis is a type of chronic arthritis that occurs in joints on both sides of the body, such as, both hands, wrists or knees. This symmetry helps distinguish rheumatoid arthritis from other types of arthritis. In addition to affecting the joints, rheumatoid arthritis may occasionally affect the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, blood, nerves or kidneys. Several new therapies have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat and prevent progression of rheumatoid arthritis. Contact the Women's Health Resource Center at 415-600-0500 or the Community Health Resource Center at 415-923-3155 for more information. You can also contact the Institute for Health and Healing at 415-600-3660 for information on arthritis.
What you can do…
- Arthritis is not preventable, but you can manage its symptoms and inhibit its progress.
- Maintain an appropriate weight for your age, height and body structure.
- Seek early diagnosis and treatment if you experience early warnings signs, including pain, swelling, and limited movement of joints that lasts for more than two weeks.
- Avoid repeat joint injuries or joint stress. Try aquatics exercise. This puts less stress on joints than land-based exercise.
- Engage in regular exercise to maintain strength and flexibility.
- Work toward a balanced, healthy lifestyle. Stress and frequent infections can trigger inflammation.
- Ask your health care provider about anti-inflammatory medications that may improve symptoms.
- Ask your health care provider about estrogen replacement therapy. A recent nationwide study shows it may help reduce the risk of osteoarthritis.