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When Men Get Rheumatoid Arthritis

What to do if joint pain turns out to be RA.

Good News and Bad News for Men with RA continued...

One of the standard diagnostic tests involves probing joints for tenderness. As the doctor does this, the patient ranks the amount of discomfort he experiences.

“A man may be reluctant to say, ‘This hurts,’ because it would reveal weakness, which could make it more difficult to evaluate the disease,” Louie says. “The good news is there are also objective measures.”

Blood tests, for example, will reveal the presence of particular antibodies associated with RA, as well as measure indicators of inflammation, such as C-reactive protein levels. These tests can help diagnose arthritis even if the man won’t admit to feeling the pain.

But the first order of business, says Louie, is getting men to admit that they are experiencing pain and then to see a doctor.

“We need to advise men so that they are aware that their symptoms may be rheumatoid arthritis,” Louie says. “The chances for successful treatment are higher the earlier we can catch it.”

Stick with Your Treatment

Many different medications are used to control RA. They range from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce inflammation to a class of medications known as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), which can slow down the progression of rheumatoid arthritis.

For his arthritis, Ellis takes an NSAID, as well as methotrexate, a DMARD that Louie calls the “mainstay” of his arthritis treatment. Taking the drugs, which Ellis says has not caused any noticeable side effects, has eased his pain and stiffness considerably. The balls of his feet no longer trouble him, and he is now able to go running again each weekend.

The drugs, says Louie, can be extremely helpful, and men and women do equally well when taking them. But men, he says, are less likely than women to stick with their prescribed treatment. “Once they are being treated and start to feel better, they often say, ‘I’ll see if I can take less of the medication,’” Louie says.

Ellis was no exception. “I said to myself, ‘I don’t want to take all these drugs.’  So he stopped taking the NSAID. "Then I had more pain, and I went back on it," he recalls.

Keeping Active Helps

“Everyone needs exercise, but especially patients with RA,” says Louie. “RA patients who adhere to an active lifestyle appear to have less severe disease activity than those with more of a sedentary lifestyle.”

That’s true for men and women. But participation in physical therapy and sticking to recommended exercise programs appear to be lower in men, Louie says.

Not Ellis. He is a lifelong exerciser. And that seems to have helped keep his arthritis under control. Although he wakes up achy and stiff, he says that doesn’t last past his morning routine of pushups, sit ups, and leg lifts coupled with a cardio workout, either on his elliptical trainer or, on weekends, running.

“Whatever type of exercise, I’m out and doing something,” he says, adding that the medications he takes help make that possible. “The methotrexate subdues the pain and lets me do those things.”

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Reviewed on September 30, 2013

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