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Rheumatoid Arthritis Tougher in Women

Female Patients Less Likely to See Remission After Treatment
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 22, 2006 -- Women may be less likely than men to win relief from the pain of rheumatoid arthritisrheumatoid arthritis (RA), a Swedish study shows.

Despite similar treatment, female patients with RA were less apt to achieve remission -- meaning there was little or no evidence of ongoing disease -- than were male patients, according to the findings.

The study was presented in Amsterdam at the Annual European Congress of the European League Against Rheumatism. Researchers included Bjorn Svensson of the rheumatology department of Sweden's University of Lund.

RA causes joint inflammation, as the body's immune system mistakenly attacks the joints. The cause of the disease is unknown. Three-quarters of RA patients are women.

Svensson's team isn't the first to notice a gender gap in RA suffering. But, while other researchers have found rheumatoid arthritisarthritis usually less severe in women than men, that wasn't the case in Svensson's study.

RA Study

Svensson and colleagues studied nearly 700 men and women who had been diagnosed with RA within the previous year.

Nearly two-thirds were women. On average, the patients were 58 years old and had been diagnosed with RA six months before the study.

Initial data showed no overall differences in RA activity between the men and women.

"However, the disease course during the next five years of follow-up was considerably worse in women," the researchers write.

The men and women received similar drug treatment for RA. And researchers checked to see which patients achieved remission over the next five years.

Remission Rarer in Women

After two years in the study, 38% of the patients were in remission. The same percentage was in remission at the five-year follow-up, the study shows.

But men were more likely than women to get relief. Two years into the study, 32% of the women were in remission, compared to 49% of the men. At the five-year follow-up, 31% of the women were in remission, compared to 52% of the men.

"This could not be explained by treatment approaches" or patient age, write Svensson and colleagues. "Importantly, women had a much lower remission rate than men although their disease activity at treatment start was not explicitly different," they write.

The researchers call for further studies of the RA gender gap.

Meanwhile, they write that "the data seem solid enough to call for reinforced vigilance in the frequency and quality of follow-up in order to achieve an optimal suppression of the inflammatory process in all patients, regardless of gender."

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