Diagnosing and Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis in Men

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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that affects the lining of the joints, causing pain, swelling, and difficulty moving. Though women are three times more likely to be diagnosed with RA, men can and do develop the disease.

Men tend to have delayed diagnoses because they may attribute their pain to other activities and take longer to seek treatment. This delay can be critical, as early diagnosis is crucial to slow the progression of the disease and limit joint damage.

This article discusses RA in men, its symptoms, and treatment options.

Senior African American man rub his sore shoulder.

Terry Vine / Getty Images

Why Does Rheumatoid Arthritis Occur?

Though the exact cause of RA is unknown, it is believed to be caused by a mixture of several factors. The environment, genes, and sex hormones all play a role in the development of the disease.

Some risk factors include:

  • Smoking: Smoking cigarettes is the biggest environmental risk factor for developing RA.
  • Diet: Diet can also contribute to RA. Eating a diet high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation and decrease your risk.
  • Body mass index (BMI): Having a BMI over 30 can increase your risk of developing RA.

Female hormones such as estrogen and progesterone have been linked to the development of RA. Studies are ongoing as to why these hormones contribute to RA.

Certain genes have been linked to RA as well.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms in Men

In RA, the immune system attacks healthy joint tissues mainly in the hands, wrists, feet, ankles, knees, and spine, but it can affect other areas as well.

RA can cause other symptoms, such as fever, and make you more susceptible to developing problems in the heart, lungs, blood, nerves, eyes, and skin.

Symptoms of RA in men are the same as for women. However, men tend to think the pain and swelling they experience in their joints are due to their daily activities, especially if they are active playing sports or have a physically demanding job.

Typical symptoms of RA include:

  • Pain and swelling in joints
  • Stiffness that lasts longer than 30 minutes, especially in the morning
  • Tenderness in the joints
  • Weakness and an inability to do activities that used to be easy, such as lifting a bag of groceries

Other symptoms of RA include but are not limited to:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite

Certain triggers can cause your RA symptoms to flare (worsen), including stress, discontinuing medication, or too much physical activity.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment

Early treatment for RA is essential for better outcomes. Identifying and treating RA at the beginning of the disease course can help slow progression and prevent the joints from eroding. Treatment can help preserve mobility and aid in reaching a state of remission, when the disease becomes inactive.

The goals in treating RA are to lower inflammation, provide symptom relief, prevent joint and organ damage, reduce the probability of long-term complications, and improve quality of life.

Treatment options for RA include but are not limited to:

Summary

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune condition affecting the joints that causes pain and stiffness. Men typically take longer to diagnose, because they often assume the cause of their symptoms are from regular daily activities.

Joint pain or swelling that persists should be examined by a healthcare provider to determine the exact cause. Early diagnosis of RA leads to early treatment, which can help prevent further damage to the joints and put the disease into remission.

A Word From Verywell 

If you suspect you have RA, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider. Noticing early arthritis symptoms can help you get a proper diagnosis, which can aid in treatment and slow disease progression. Though living with a chronic illness that causes pain can feel overwhelming, working with your healthcare team can help improve your quality of life and provide ways to manage the disease.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why do more women have RA than men?

    The exact reason is unknown, but it is thought to be due to the differences in hormones.

  • At what age are people typically diagnosed with RA?

    RA can occur at any age, but the risk for developing RA increases as you age. RA is less likely in men under the age of 45.

  • Does RA reduce your life expectancy?

    RA can reduce your life expectancy. This is believed to be caused by your higher risk for developing other conditions when you have RA.

  • Is rheumatoid arthritis genetic?

    Yes. You are more likely to be diagnosed with RA if someone in your family has the disease.

 

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12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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