Women with inflammatory arthritis (IA) are more likely to use healthcare services than men, a Canadian study found. The results suggest there are biological differences in disease course and sociocultural differences in health care access and patient behavior among the sexes, Sanjana Tarannum said in a presentation at the Lancet Summit on Sex and Gender in Rheumatology.
Ms. Tarannum and colleagues also recently published the study in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.
Effectively managing IA patients calls for timely access to and appropriate use of health care resources, said Ms. Tarannum, of the Women’s College Research Institute in Toronto.
Sex and gender are often used interchangeably but they refer to different things. “Sex is the biological characteristic of being male or female. It relates to disease inheritance patterns, pain processing mechanisms, and immune dysregulation in the context of inflammatory arthritis,” Ms. Tarannum said during her presentation.
Gender is a sociocultural construct associated with masculine or feminine traits. In the context of IA, gender relates to coping strategies, pain perception and reporting, and health care–seeking behavior of patients and interaction with care providers.
A patient’s sex relates to healthcare encounters, time to diagnosis, and prescription patterns. These all affect disease outcomes. Previous studies have yielded inconsistent results and mainly focused on rheumatoid arthritis rather than other IA types such as ankylosing spondylitis (AS).
Ms. Tarannum and colleagues sought to compare health care usage between male and female patients for musculoskeletal-related issues before and after IA diagnosis. They used Ontario administrative health data to create three cohorts of patients with RA, AS, and psoriatic arthritis (PsA), the three most common types of IA. The patients were diagnosed during 2010-2017, and outcomes were assessed in each year for 3 years before and after diagnosis.
Health care use indicators included visits to physicians, musculoskeletal imaging, laboratory tests, and dispensation of drugs. Regression models adjusting for sociodemographic factors and comorbidities were used to compare male and female patients.
Sex-related differences emerge in all IA groups
The investigators assessed 41,277 patients with RA (69% female), 8,150 patients with AS (51% female), and 6,446 patients with PsA (54% female). Male patients had more cardiovascular disease, whereas female patients had higher incidences of depression and osteoporosis.
Similar trends of sex-related differences emerged in all three cohorts. Before diagnosis, female patients were more likely to visit rheumatologists or family physicians for musculoskeletal reasons or use musculoskeletal imaging and laboratory tests. Women were also more likely to remain in rheumatology care after diagnosis.
Men were more likely to visit the ED for musculoskeletal reasons immediately before diagnosis.
No sex- or gender-related differences were observed in medication use, although older females with RA or AS were more likely to get prescriptions for NSAIDs and opioids and conventional disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, respectively.
The findings show that overall musculoskeletal health care use was higher in female patients with IA. “Sex differences were more pronounced the earlier the encounter was from the time of diagnosis and tended to diminish with time,” Ms. Tarannum observed. Sex differences were also more prominent in the RA and AS cohorts.