Osteoarthritis strikes women harder, take care- The New Indian Express

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Express News Service

KOCHI: Osteoarthritis, a common joint disease that affects millions globally, isn’t gender-neutral. Women, especially post-menopausal women, tend to bear the brunt of the disease burden, according to various studies conducted globally and in India.

Notably, women are also more likely to delay seeking treatment due to various sociocultural factors, suffering greater pain and disability. World Arthritis Day is an opportune time to raise awareness about osteoarthritis and its gender disparity so that women can make informed choices about their bone and joint health.

Unbalanced scales

According to a World Health Organization report, 60% of people living with osteoarthritis are women. They are 40% more likely to develop knee osteoarthritis, the most common manifestation. The chances of developing this disease increase with age. Research suggests that genetic, anatomical and hormonal factors may be why postmenopausal women are at an increased risk of osteoarthritis.

Anatomy: Women tend to have wider hips, which can put more pressure on the outside edge of their knees. This uneven distribution often results in poor posture, which, in turn, increases the risk of osteoarthritis. Women’s knees also contain less cartilage as compared to men’s, even when bone size and body mass are taken into account.

Hormones: Fluctuations in hormones during menstrual cycles can impact joint laxity. This means that women are at a higher risk of injury during certain phases in their lives. An improperly healed or long-term injury can also increase the risk of osteoarthritis further.

Nutritional deficiencies: Nutritional deficiencies are extremely common in women in India due to a number of factors, including a higher requirement for micronutrients. These play a significant role in bone and joint health, especially in the premenopausal and postmenopausal ages. Vitamin D deficiency, often called a silent pandemic, is a high-risk factor. Its levels determine the pattern of post-menopausal bone loss and joint health.

Management plan

It is true that post-menopausal women have a predisposition to all forms of arthritis. However, it is also true that a majority of the risk factors can be significantly managed. Weight management is an important step. Eating a balanced diet that is rich in vitamins and micronutrients can help preserve bone health when the body’s natural protection mechanism starts to dip with age. Exercise is also key. Women should also seek help to address poor posture. Another important step enabling prevention is regular checkups. Women over 40 should get their bone density assessed every year and tested regularly for nutritional deficiencies. Women using birth control pills, hormonal IUDs, or who are on hormone therapy should regularly check calcium levels and speak to their doctors about supplements.

Treatment options

It is possible to live an active and healthy life with osteoarthritis; timely medical intervention helps. Doctors can prescribe painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications. However, if the patient experiences severe mobility issues and pain, then total knee replacement surgery is a relatively safe option that can help improve the quality of life over the long term. Knee replacement surgery is now less invasive, and technical advancements like robotic-assisted surgeries can shorten hospital stays.

Risks

Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease, which means the symptoms will continue to get worse if left untreated. With the median age of Indians going up, patients have to live a long time with osteoarthritis, enduring pain, restricted or constrained motion, and even disability. Restricted mobility is also associated with an increased risk of other health conditions, including cardiovascular disease. Women should be proactive in managing their joint health and seek professional guidance when needed. Remember, osteoarthritis doesn’t define your future—it’s a condition that can be managed with the right treatment and approach.

The writer is senior consultant and lead of Orthopedics & Rheumatology, Aster Medicity, Kochi

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