It has been reported that rheumatoid arthritis is almost thrice as common amongst women than men and eventually impairs the life quality of female sufferers more than it does that of their male counterparts.
However, scientists have speculated that the medicines used affect women and men differently.
Researchers at Karolinska Institutet have now given vital clues as to why the prognosis is gender-specific.
In their study, they have shown that men undergoing standard therapy for rheumatism respond significantly better than women having the same treatment - both objectively, such as in the degree of swelling in the joints, and subjectively in terms of their own experience of the disease.
"Purely objectively, the drug had a somewhat better effect on the men than on the women. But the greatest difference was of a subjective nature. The women in the study felt sicker even when their joints showed the same improvements," said associate professor Ronald van Vollenhoven, who led the study.
He said that subjective difference should be considered while judging the severity of the disease. If doctors limit their prognosis only to physical symptoms, people with severe pain might be deprived of the most effective medicine, which, owing to high costs and the risk of side-effects, is only given to the worst sufferers.
In a follow-up study, scientists compared the degree of disease in men and women who had received 'biological' medicines, which are only given to people who are considered seriously ill.
The results indicated that while women and men who were undergoing treatment were at the same level as regards the objective manifestations of the disease, women felt themselves to be sicker than the men.
"Women and men have been treated on equal terms from the perspective of the doctors, but it's possible that no one has been aware of the fact that the pain can be worse for women than for men. Since our objective is to reduce suffering, we should try to take more account of the subjective aspects of rheumatoid arthritis," said Dr van Vollenhoven.
The findings of the study were presented at a congress on gender medicine arranged by Karolinska Institutet.