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Rheumatoid Arthritis in Women

How to manage your work and home life when you have rheumatoid arthritis.

Women and RA: Diet Matters

While there is no anti-RA diet, Rosian suggests filling up on colorful fruits and vegetables. "Avoid some of the pro-inflammatory foods like red meat if they are a trigger for your RA symptoms," she says. She also recommends that women with RA take 1,000 milligrams of omega-3 fish oil twice a day to help reduce inflammation.

"Eat a well-balanced diet and maintain a healthy weight to help minimize joint pain," she says.

Depression and anxiety may also go hand-in-hand with chronic illness like RA, Rosian says. Medication as well as stress-relieving therapies such as yoga, meditation, tai chi, guided imagery, or acupuncture can help women with RA better manage their moods and fatigue, she says.

Rheumatoid Arthritis in Women: Build a Strong Support Network

Support from loved ones and friends can also help alleviate depression and anxiety among women with RA.

"Howard has been my rock," Schear says. "I had no symptoms when we got married and he has been by my side the whole time," she says.

Kelly Rouba, a 29-year-old Hamilton, N.J., special needs advocate and freelance writer who was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis when she was 2 years old, is not feeling so lucky when it comes to love.

Dating with arthritis is a big problem for Rouba. For some, arthritis can cause joint deformities, which may make people feel self-conscious. In others, some medications may have side effects such as weight gain or hair loss that can also affect a women's self-esteem. Rouba thinks that potential suitors are scared off by her disability.

"I'm on [the dating site] eHarmony and most guys close out immediately when they see that I am in a wheelchair, but it is really for outside. I walk or use a walker around the home," she says. Still, "guys are turned off by it. It's tough."

She has learned that support comes in many shapes and sizes.

"For many years, I was really bitter and there are still days that I get depressed," she admits. But something changed for Rouba when she was in college. "I began to look at it differently and embraced it and tried to make the most of it," she says. Rouba joined support groups and began to help raise awareness about the disease.

"Now I have a nice support group of friends and we count on each other when we are having bad days," she says.

Women and RA: The Role of Treatment

Aggressive treatment means active life. Lifestyle changes such as weight loss and exercise are an important part of the equation, but early, aggressive treatment is the best way for women to stay active despite RA, Pisetsky says.

"If you have RA, get treated early," he says. "The goal is to get you to remission and with current drugs that is possible. The earlier you are treated the better the outcome."

Thanks to effective therapy, Schear is able to cook again. "We have such a small kitchen, but when we visit friends with larger homes, I will take over their kitchen," she says.  "I also have simple little victories every day like being able to put socks on without assistive devices and getting out of the car without a hoist from my husband. It used to be that if I sat in a sofa I was stuck because my knees didn't bend."

The simple victories are what it's all about, Bili says. "Women need to remember that they are not superheroes and they do need to tailor some of their activities around the needs of the disease. We want to treat it aggressively to prevent its progression and keep this population in the work force and able to care for their families."

Reviewed on June 10, 2009

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