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The Impact of RA on Men

The Impact of RA on Men

I’m the only male Patient Advocate and Moderator on www.rheumatoidarthritis.net and the corresponding Facebook page. There is a great page on RA and Women’s Health on our website but no corresponding page for men. Of all the people who visit the Facebook page, only 15% of the people reached were men and only 9% of the people who actively engaged by liking, sharing, or commenting on posts were men. All of this is not too surprising given the fact that the ratio of women to men with RA is about 2 to 1.[1] But with approximately 1.5 million people in the United States with RA[2], that would mean that almost half a million men suffer from RA.

When it comes to autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis, lupus, scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjogren’s syndrome, women seem to bear the brunt of these diseases in terms of proportion of people impacted. Genetics, behaviors, and hormones are proposed as reasons why more women get these diseases.[3] However, there may be some differences in how RA impacts men. Since I’m a man with RA, this topic is of personal interest.

Researchers tend to find that women fare worse with RA than men in terms of severity of symptoms. But those differences may actually be a result of the measures used and not from the disease itself.[4] It has also been found that men respond more favorably to biologic treatments than women and are more likely to achieve disease remission status.[5] While some studies show that men are more likely to be treated earlier and more aggressively[6], other studies demonstrated that there were no differences in between the proportion of women and men taking corticosteroids, methotrexate, and biologics.[7] Men are more likely to suffer from infections due to immune suppressing medicines used to treat RA.[8] Erectile dysfunction can be a unique side effect of RA for men. But women also experience sexual dysfunction from the disease.[9] There is a higher mortality rate for men with RA.[10]

Despite all the studies conducted on gender differences in RA, one researcher from Finland reviewed the literature and argues that a strong research base using gold standard methods does not currently exist to demonstrate dramatic gender differences.[11] More research into this area is needed as it may provide better diagnosis and treatment options for both men and women.

Fathers, and any parent with RA for that matter, also have unique challenges. Children may not understand the disease and might believe that arthritis is something only old people get. As my children experienced me dealing with RA symptoms over time, it reinforced in their minds that this was a serious condition. It’s less of a battle these days getting my teenaged children to help with tasks that I simply cannot do anymore such as mowing the grass and doing yard work. This education is an ongoing process – just the other day one my children made a comment about me being an “old man with arthritis.” Sometimes the disease takes a toll on my ability to attend my daughter’s soccer games. I can no longer wrestle on the floor, play roller hockey, coach sports, or take them snowboarding.

Another aspect of RA that could be unique to men is pressure to be a primary wage earner for a family. While this tradition has shifted in the modern era due to globalization, educational opportunities, double family incomes, and changes in cultural norms, the pressure on men to provide for their families remains embedded in their persona.[12] I’m the primary breadwinner in our family as my wife and I planned for this many years ago so she could stay at home with our children when they were young (she now works outside the home). In this context, rheumatoid arthritis brought added pressure and questions like “What would happen if I become disabled?” and “Can I keep up with the pace of work?” Of course, this pressure to provide income can apply to anyone, male or female, single or married.

Rheumatoid arthritis impacts more women than men in terms of shear numbers. And the disease may impact women more in terms of severity and response to treatment. But RA is not just a women’s disease as there are large numbers of men battling RA. Understanding similarities and differences of how the disease impacts both genders is critical to proper diagnosis and treatment.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. http://www.the-rheumatologist.org/details/article/873199/The_Gender_Effect.html
  2. http://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/data_statistics/arthritis_related_stats.htm
  3. http://www.hss.edu/conditions_gender-and-rheumatoid-arthritis.asp#.U7zVn2RDuGc
  4. http://arthritis-research.com/content/11/1/r7
  5. http://arthritis-research.com/content/11/1/r7#B19
  6. http://arthritis-research.com/content/11/1/r7#B68
  7. http://arthritis-research.com/content/11/1/r7#B19
  8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17644554
  9. http://www.rheumatology.org/Practice/Clinical/Patients/Diseases_And_Conditions/Sex_and_Arthritis/
  10. http://www.medpagetoday.com/Rheumatology/Arthritis/24210
  11. http://www.the-rheumatologist.org/details/article/870989/Sex_Differences__Rheumatoid_Arthritis.html
  12. http://www.fordham.edu/campus_resources/enewsroom/archives/archive_2501.asp 

Comments

  • Dave D
    7 months ago

    Not sure what are early signs of RA. I’ve had the morning stiffness in my hands since i was 19 or so (now 35) warm feeling joints that are sometimes red looking in color. Ive been told its arthritis possibly before in my hands. Ive also had the same in my feet. Last week i was told i had possible gout after only an xray and that i have scar tissue and arthritis in my lower back after a spinal surgery 2 years back. Other than that im constantly fatigued and trouble breathing some but ive been a smoker since i was a teen. Havent felt nodules though but as far as major joints they normally hurt and have for years. Any kind of advice?

  • Ed Burgoyne moderator
    3 years ago

    Thanks Andrew.
    It is good to see information by the numbers.
    Same diease, somewhat different symptoms between men and women. Could us men also be more stubborn about going to see a Dr. and admitting to being weak?

  • Scott Howard
    5 years ago

    I have gotten used to disportionate information for men with “women’s” diseases. I have migraine headaches as well as RA and, in that community too, info, support, etc for men is sparse.

    I was diagnosed with RA a couple of months ago, however, in retrospect, I should have been diagnosed about 10 years ago when I first became symptomatic. Fortunately the disease hasn’t impacted my life too severely. I can’t open jars most days any more and my fingers hurt a lot, but otherwise, my life is normal…for me.

  • Andrew Lumpe, PhD moderator author
    5 years ago

    Scott, I’m glad RA hasn’t impacted you too much yet. Unfortunately, it often takes years for people to get diagnosed. I also suffer with migraines and am part of http://migraine.com/ although I spend most of my time around the RA group since I’m a writer and moderator. Thanks for reading.

  • Jane Burbach
    5 years ago

    Thank you for the informative post. Up until recently I’d only personally met one man with RA and that was 25 years ago early in my career. Then I recently met a young man in his 20s who has Wegeners, lupus, and RA and then a man in his 40s with psoriatic arthritis. I haven’t known many women either for that matter until the last five years and I know three. It could be that until recently people talked about arthritis and didn’t differentiate.

    Men tend to be on the stoic side which might account for less communication in social media.

    As a professional divorced mother who has raised my two sons, who are now teenagers, alone since they were very young (their father moved out of state and has not paid child support), I understand the drive and need to work to support a family, as well as the validation that having a thriving career can provide.

    I also understand when a person is chronically ill and they still work and raise a family that the energy goes into work to provide for the family. There is not much left over for other pursuits. My own life is fairly lopsided.

    Thank you for giving a male voice to RA.

  • Andrew Lumpe, PhD moderator author
    5 years ago

    Hi Jane, glad you liked the article. You’re right that stoicism is probably part of the reason the male voice of autoimmune diseases is quiet.

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