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While Rheumatoid Arthritis affects women disproportionately more, there is still limited awareness of the disease and its impact in India.
“Thoda MOOV lagalo, Aah se aha tak” (Just apply some Moov ointment and get relief!).
This is a party line for whenever a woman complains of pain. It doesn’t go beyond this. Only the brand name of the ointment keeps changing.
In most such cases, do we really know the root cause? Well, it is time to educate our selves.
Whoever said being a woman is easy, clearly does not know the challenges each year brings in. There are several changes and risks that women face while approaching their 40s, one such risk is that of Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is an auto immune disease that mainly affects the tissues around the joints causing inflammation and swelling. It, Rheumatoid Arthritis (known as RA) results in chronic pain – it occurs when the body’s own immune system starts attacking the joints and creates inflammation in the tissue lining.
Both men and women are susceptible to it. However, women form almost 75% of RA sufferers, largely due to hormonal factors that are still poorly understood. For instance, women over 40 who experience early menopause are more susceptible to this disease.
Due to the generic nature of many rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, it is often difficult to detect early. When it comes to chronic pain, many doctors in India still ascribe it to diet, age or stress, and do not investigate more closely.
Any kind of joint pain or swelling is often treated temporarily with short-term painkillers. This gradually just becomes a way of life. RA awareness is still limited in India. Thus, doctors do not consider it to be a common possibility.
It is also true that (as the primary caregivers in most families), women go through the most active years of their life living a factory format life leaving very little time for self-care. Right from 25 to 40, it is literally an unstoppable routine that they adhere to. This leaves them with very little time to invest in their own health.
In the Indian cultural context, women feel uncomfortable sharing their own discomfort. And not everyone is sympathetic to it. Any slight discomfort is often shrugged off with reactions like, “You need to work out.” And if the woman is a homemaker, she is accused of having work that’s hardly difficult.
So, the end result is that while women work very hard to balance all the responsibilities, they miss the signs of RA. These signs have already made their way into the system and begun to rise.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is a disease that doesn’t just affect the joints. Over time, it can affect non-joint structures like the bone marrow, kidneys, heart, lungs, nerve tissue, and blood vessels. Given the demands on a woman’s life in handling a career, kids or family, such a blow to her health can be a huge jolt.
From handling multiple activities independently to facing chronic pain, can be a huge blow and may lead to depression as well. What a woman suffering from rheumatoid arthritis needs (besides pain management and other treatment) is the love and support of family members. That, and the reassurance that despite her illness, she is a valued member of the family.
While cures for rheumatoid arthritis have still not been discovered, new research offers hope that DNA testing can help to identify genetic variations that give doctors better cues on what therapies can help a particular patient better. (Source).
The bottom line is that with RA and similar diseases which target women disproportionately, it is important to stay aware and prioritise our physical and mental self-care. The conventional path of de-prioritising one self during our peak working years is self-harming. It creates a ripple effect on everything around us as well and passes on the wrong message to younger members of the family.
Real progress lies in seeking help, staying aware and being educated about our health at every age and stage.
Honestly the time to start all this is NOW!
Picture credits: Pexels
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