Women’s Health Week celebrates the unique well-being needs of women and encourages them to prioritise their health.
Among the various health considerations, arthritis stands as a significant concern for women due to its prevalence and impact on daily life.
This article explores the connection between women’s health and arthritis, shedding light on the importance of awareness, early intervention, and effective management strategies during Women’s Health Week.
Women’s Health Week is a nation-wide campaign dedicated to supporting women to make good health a priority. This year Women’s Health Week is 4-8 September.
Many forms of arthritis are much more common in women than in men. Researchers are not exactly sure why this is the case, however it may involve various factors.
While some types of arthritis can be more common in older age, many people are diagnosed at working age or younger which can impact on things like family planning and work/career.
Some types of arthritis that are more common in women include:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
Additionally, conditions like Sjogren’s syndrome and Scleroderma which can be more common in people with arthritis, tend to affect more women than men.
Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis affects about 10% of women in Australia, compared with 6% of men. It is a condition that affects the whole joint including bone, cartilage, ligaments and muscles. The area predominantly affected is the cartilage. Cartilage is the protective covering over the ends of your bones that usually stops the bones in your joints from rubbing against each other. In osteoarthritis, this breaks down, causing pain, stiffness and/or swelling.
Rheumatoid Arthritis: Women are three times more likely to develop Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) than men. RA is a condition where your immune system mistakenly targets and attacks your own body (commonly known as an autoimmune condition). In RA, the immune system commonly targets the lining of the joints, causing inflammation and joint damage.
Lupus: Of those diagnosed with lupus, 9 in 10 are women. Lupus is an autoimmune condition where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues. For some people, lupus may just affect the skin and/or joints. In other people, it may also affect the lungs, kidneys, blood vessels, brain or other parts of the body.
Sjogren’s syndrome: Sjogren’s Syndrome, pronounced “Showgren’s syndrome”, is an autoimmune condition. This means the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks your body’s healthy tissues. In Sjogren’s syndrome, this particularly affects the glands that make our tears and saliva. Around half the people who have Sjogren’s syndrome also have some form of arthritis.
Scleroderma: Scleroderma affects the connective tissues of the body – these are the tissues that hold together our joints, muscles, blood vessels and internal organs. The connective tissues of people with scleroderma have too much of a protein called collagen. Collagen is what gives connective tissue its strength, but too much of it causes the tissue to harden and tighten.
Living with arthritis
Although arthritis primarily effects the joints, other parts of the body can also be affected such as internal organs, eyes, skin, nails, and hair.
As well as the physical effects, arthritis can also have social and emotional impacts.
For many people, an arthritis management plan includes a range of therapies and techniques to that support physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
Unique Challenges for Women
Several factors contribute to the increased susceptibility of women to arthritis:
- Hormonal Changes: Hormones play a significant role in arthritis development. Hormonal changes during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause can trigger or worsen arthritis symptoms.
- Autoimmune Connection: Autoimmune forms of arthritis, like RA and lupus, are more common in women. These conditions arise when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissues.
- Pregnancy Considerations: Managing arthritis during pregnancy requires careful balancing of medications, pain management strategies, and overall well-being for both the mother and the baby.
- Bone Health: Women’s bone health can be affected by conditions like osteoporosis, which can coincide with arthritis, leading to additional challenges.
Juggling Roles: Women often juggle multiple roles, from caregivers to professionals, which can impact arthritis management and self-care routines.
Empowering women to take charge of their arthritis involves various approaches:
- Regular Check-ups: Routine health check-ups can help identify arthritis symptoms early, allowing for diagnosis and management.
- Healthy Lifestyle: Adopting a balanced diet, engaging in regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and managing stress contribute to overall well-being and can worsen arthritis symptoms.
- Medication Management: Consulting healthcare providers about safe and effective arthritis medications is crucial, especially for pregnant women.
- Pain Management: Exploring pain-relief strategies such as physical therapy, acupuncture, and mindfulness techniques can provide relief.
- Support Networks: Connecting with support groups, healthcare professionals, and other women facing similar challenges fosters a sense of community and provides valuable insights.
Women’s Health Week
Women’s Health Week is a week dedicated to all women across Australia to make good health a priority. It is a great reminder to set aside time for your health and wellbeing.
More Information & Support
- Join one of our online support groups to connect with other Australians living with arthritis.
- Register for Arthritis Assist to speak one-on-one with someone else living with arthritis.
- Osteoarthritis. (last updated 2020). Australian Institute for Health and Welfare. www.aihw.gov.au/
- Taking Control of your Rheumatoid Arthritis. (2019). Arthritis Australia
- Lupus (last updated 2020). Health Direct. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/lupus
- Arthritis by the Numbers (2019). Arthritis Foundation. https://www.arthritis.org/getmedia/e1256607-fa87-4593-aa8a-8db4f291072a/2019-abtn-final-march-2019.pdf
Updated August 2023