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Arthritis Outlook Worse for Women

Excerpt By David Douglas, Reuters Health

Both women and men with early rheumatoid arthritis improve rapidly with treatment, but ultimately women fare worse than men, new research from Sweden suggests.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease that involves inflammation of the joints, resulting in pain and decreased mobility. The exact cause is unknown, but it is classified as an autoimmune disease--meaning that the patient's own body is actually attacking itself.

Drug therapy is effective at limiting joint damage in patients newly diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, Dr. Thomas Skogh told Reuters Health. Unfortunately, these patients still experience a decline in their functional abilities over time, he added.

In his study, men had joint disease that was equal to, if not worse than, that of women, Skogh noted. Still, men showed "signs of more pronounced improvement and a more favorable course than the women with regard to functional abilities," he said.

Skogh, from the University of Linkoping, and colleagues came to these conclusions after following 284 patients with early rheumatoid arthritis. The severity of their disease was gauged by a number of factors and a special questionnaire was given to the patients to determine their functional ability.

The new findings are reported in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

Disease severity improved in all patients during the first 3 months of treatment, but then it leveled off. At 1 year, the patients began to notice a drop in their functional abilities.

When the study began, men and women were equal in terms of functional ability. However, when they were tested again 1 and 2 years later, women had experienced a greater drop in their abilities than men.

"The reasons for this are not obvious," Skogh concluded, "but may reflect a more aggressive disease course in women."

SOURCE: Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases July 2003


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