Women vs. Men: Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis treatments you can feel in your bones!
Osteoarthritis (OA) is known as "wear-and-tear arthritis” and is particularly prevalent among women. Not only are women more susceptible to the disease, but the challenges they face in managing it can be different from those men encounter.
One Size Doesn't Fit All
On average, women develop OA 10 years later than men, but experience greater muscle and joint pain. Thirty-four percent of women ages 45 through 64 and nearly nine percent of women ages 15 through 46 have osteoarthritis.*
Emerging research delineating the differences between male and female hormones, metabolic factors, joints, bones and brains could lead to gender-specific arthritis treatments. The arthritis community is already exploring gender-specific pain relief and surgery because the techniques that work for men don't necessarily work for women.**
That's because women have different experiences with:
Medicines. For example, St. John's Wort, a supplement used to counter the inflammation caused by arthritis, may break down more quickly in women than men, making it a less effective treatment for women.
Pain. Women react to pain with more activity in the emotion centers of the brain. This makes women more likely to talk about how pain makes them feel and to seek social support or distraction to cope.
Social support. In a survey of households where one spouse has arthritis, 78 percent of women with arthritis said they receive little or no support, while 66 percent of men with arthritis said they feel satisfied with the support they receive.
Treatment Tailored to Women's Needs
Although some strategies for managing arthritis are beneficial for everyone, women may need to proactively find coping strategies to fit their unique experiences. Jaime Hernandez, MD, Orthopedics, Northridge Hospital, completed his arthritis training at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and recommends the following tools for women to help manage arthritis:
Weight management. Obese women have nearly four times the risk of developing knee osteoarthritis. Extra weight increases the stress on the joints, especially the knees and hips. Dropping 10 pounds is equivalent to taking 30 pounds of pressure off your knees.
Exercise. Arthritis may make exercise seem unthinkable, but physical activity can actually reduce arthritis pain and delay loss of function. Consider swimming, yoga or tai chi as low-impact, but effective ways to keep moving.
Opt for sensible shoes. Wearing heels two inches or taller shifts your body weight, increasing the force on your knees. This can cause degenerative changes in the joint.***
Supplements. According to a recent study, postmenopausal women with knee osteoarthritis who take 1,500 milligrams of glucosamine a day experienced less discomfort and less narrowing of the spaces in their knee joint (which occurs as cartilage breaks down) than the control group.
Glucosamine and chondroitin aren't FDA regulated, so their content and quality can vary widely. Talk to your doctor before using them, since glucosamine can be risky if you have a shellfish allergy and it also can raise blood sugar. In addition, chondroitin can thin blood.
Vitamin D. Researchers found that people deficient in vitamin D complained of more osteoarthritis pain and disability than those with adequate levels. When their levels returned to normal, their pain decreased. You need 400 IU of vitamin D and 1,000 mg of calcium (1,500 mg after menopause) to stave off bone fractures, which can lead to osteoarthritis.
Stress relief. High stress may exacerbate arthritis pain, so pamper yourself.
Honest communication. Ask for help from family members if pain limits your abilities in certain areas. And be honest with your doctor about the impact arthritis has on your life so they can help you find the best course of treatment.
Researchers will continue exploring the subtle nuances that differentiate men and women and indicate that their healthcare should not be exactly the same. In the meantime, talk to your doctor about how your condition impacts your life, note when your treatments don’t seem to be working and ask questions about other options and tests.
*Centers for Disease Control
**The Arthritis Foundation
***The University of Virginia, Charlottesville