When Men Get Rheumatoid Arthritis
What Causes It?
Certain genes put you at risk for getting RA, O’Dell says. Years later, something like smoking or an infection triggers the disease.
“Men with RA may have more of a genetic burden. It takes more to tip a man toward rheumatoid arthritis than a woman, but men may have more of the bad genes,” O’Dell says.
RA affects your immune system. It attacks joints and organs, including the heart, lungs, or eyes. It causes your body to attack its own tissues instead of fighting disease like it should.
Because men get RA less often than women, they seldom take part in studies, so we don’t have a lot of data to show if the disease affects them differently, O’Dell says.
Start Treatment ASAP
Get to a doctor as soon as you notice symptoms, like warm, swollen joints or stiffness in the morning. This way you can rule out other causes, like an injury, O’Dell says. Early and aggressive treatment with drugs can stop inflammation and may protect your joints from damage.
In the 1970s, doctors treated RA cautiously with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to ease pain and swelling, Mulvihill says.
“I started on four aspirin a day, and eventually up to 28 a day. As a result, I got stomach ulcers,” he says.
Doctors waited until the RA got very bad before prescribing stronger drugs like cortisone shots, Mulvihill says. “I got one particular shot in my baby toe that was so painful, I said, ‘Never again!’”
He’s also had surgery to reconstruct damaged joints in his foot. As a result, he went from a size 11 1/2 shoe to an 8, he says.
Treatment Side Effects
Doctors still use NSAIDs to treat RA symptoms, but they also have more effective drugs that stop the disease itself. They call these disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, or DMARDs. But you need to be aware of the side effects and risks, O’Dell says.
“Men need to be concerned about conceiving a child while taking these medicines,” he says. Methotrexate, often prescribed as the first RA treatment, may cause birth defects due to DNA changes to your sperm.