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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...

Diagnosing and treating the disease early is important for other reasons, as well. Joint damage often happens during the first two years of having RA, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

Many men, though, are much less likely than women to see a doctor, for arthritis or anything else. Ellis is a perfect example. He put up with his pain for three to four years before consulting with a physician.

“Men are often diagnosed later because they tend to downplay their symptoms,” says Louie, who is treating Ellis' RA. “They may not recognize that it is something that they need treatment for.”

Louie adds that men also may have fewer functional disabilities than women do. But the reason may be that men are underreporting the extent of the difficulties that the disease is causing. This also comes up when diagnosing RA.

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.

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