Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an immune system condition, or “autoimmune disorder,” that causes inflammation of the lining of the joints. It may also affect the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, blood, and nerves. Although RA symptoms can come and go, the disease can worsen over time and may never go away. Early, aggressive treatment is key to slowing or stopping it.
Rheumatoid Arthritis: Symptoms?
Joint inflammation from RA comes with pain, warmth, and swelling. The inflammation is typically symmetrical, occurring on both sides of the body at the same time, such as the wrists, knees, or hands. Other symptoms of RA include joint stiffness, particularly in the morning or after periods of inactivity; ongoing fatigue, and low-grade fever. Symptoms typically develop gradually over years, but they can come on rapidly for some people.
Rheumatoid Arthritis: Who Gets It?
It usually strikes between ages 30-60, but younger and older people can also get it. About 1% of the U.S. population has the condition, which is two to three times more common in women than in men. You’re more likely to get it if you smoke or if you have a relative who has this disease.
Rheumatoid Arthritis: Causes
Scientists don’t know exactly why people get Rheumatoid arthritis. Some people may have a genetic risk for it that gets triggered by a particular infection that experts haven’t yet identified.
Affect the Joints
Inflammation of the lining of the joints can destroy cartilage and bone, deforming the affected joints. As the condition progresses, joints can become painful and not work well.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Affects Organs
RA can affect organs and areas of the body other than the joints, including:
- Rheumatoid nodules: firm lumps under the skin and in internal organs
- Sjogren’s syndrome: inflammation and damage of the glands of the eyes and mouth; other parts of the body can also be affected
- Pleuritis: inflammation of the lining of the lungs
- Pericarditis: inflammation of the lining surrounding the heart
- Anemia: not enough healthy red blood cells
- Felty syndrome: not enough white blood cells. Also linked to ah enlarged spleen
- Vasculitis: blood vessel inflammation, which can hamper blood supply to tissues
Rheumatoid Arthritis and Pregnancy
Surprisingly, rheumatoid arthritis improves in up to 80% of women during pregnancy. It is likely to flare up after the baby is born. Why this happens is unclear. You may need to make changes in medication before you conceive as well as during pregnancy.
Rheumatoid Arthritis: Diagnosis
Because symptoms may come and go, diagnosing RA in its early stages is challenging. Here are several symptoms:
- Morning joint stiffness
- Swelling/fluid around several joints at the same time
- Swelling in the wrist, hand, or finger joints
- Same joints affected on both sides of your body
- Firm lumps under the skin (rheumatoid nodules)
Some common tests are to check for rheumatoid factor and anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide, which most people with RA have. In addition, there are several blood tests administered. Moreover, X-rays can help diagnose rheumatoid arthritis and provide a baseline for comparison later as the disease progresses. You may also get an MRI or ultrasound to look for joint damage and inflammation.
Although there is no cure, treatment can lower joint inflammation and pain, prevent joint damage, and help keep your joints working. You should start immediately. Your doctor will make a plan based on your particular case, including your age, affected joints, and how severe the disease is. It will include medication and exercise to strengthen muscles around the joints. In some cases, surgery is necessary.
Rheumatoid Arthritis: Medicines
Medications used to slow or stop the disease are steroids and pain relievers. You may need to take two or more drugs in combinations. For example, you may take one for pain and another to protect your joints from further damage.
Rheumatoid Arthritis: Surgery As An Option
If you have a lot of joint damage or pain, you might need surgery. Joint replacement,especially hips and knees, is the most common type for people with rheumatoid arthritis. Other types of surgery include arthroscopy, (inserting a tube-like instrument into the joint to see and repair damage), and tendon reconstruction.
Rheumatoid Arthritis: Other Treatments
Some people with RA get relief from using moist heat, acupuncture, and relaxation. Supplements that have been shown to possibly help RA are fish oil, borage seed oil, and cat’s claw. Check before you start supplements as they can cause side effects and may interact with your medications.
Rheumatoid Arthritis: Diet
Although there’s no specific diet, certain foods reduce symptoms. For example, omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, tofu, and walnuts will reduce inflammation.
Regular exercise will help those stiff, painful joints. It also keeps bones and muscles strong. Choose exercises such as gentle stretching, resistance training, and low-impact aerobics. Avoid pressure on the joints, like jogging or heavy weight lifting. In addition, when you have a flare, take a short break from exercise.
Watch this very informative video by Nucleus Medical Media on rheumatoid arthritis: