What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes joint pain and damage throughout the body. It occurs when a person’s immune system mistakes the body’s healthy tissues for foreign invaders. It causes swelling, inflammation, and pain in and around the joints and other organs. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) usually starts with the feet and hands first and also involves the same joints on both sides of the body. Some common symptoms include fatigue, stiff joints, and a general feeling of being unwell.
Types of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Seropositive Rheumatoid Arthritis
This is the most common type of RA; if you have seropositive RA, then you have a positive rheumatoid factor blood test result. This means you have antibodies that cause your immune system to attack joints. People with this type can experience inflammation in the salivary glands, eyes, heart, skin, blood vessels, nerves, among other parts. This type of arthritis may run in families and may come with more severe symptoms than seronegative RA.
Seronegative Rheumatoid Arthritis
If one has a negative RF blood test result and a negative anti-CCP result, but still has RA symptoms, then the person may have seronegative RA. One may, along the line, develop antibodies that will change the diagnosis to seropositive RA.
Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA)
This occurs in children ages 17 years old and younger. The symptoms here are the same as other types of RA but it can also include inflammation of the eye and issues with physical development.
Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the immune system attacks the synovium, which is the lining of the membranes that surround the joints. It causes pain and inflammation. Inflammation causes the synovium to thicken. If left untreated, it can destroy the cartilage (the connective tissue that cushions the ends of the bones). The tendons and ligaments that hold the joint together can also weaken and stretch, making the joint gradually lose its shape and alignment.
Risk Factors of Rheumatoid Arthritis
It can occur at any age, however, it is most common in middle age.
If a member of your family has RA, then you have a higher risk of having the disease.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects more women than men.
This can also increase the risk of one developing rheumatoid arthritis. Smoking is associated with making the disease more severe if one has a genetic predisposition for developing the disease.
Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Symptoms can vary from mild to severe, and it occurs during periods known as flares or exacerbations with periods of relative remission when the swelling and pain eventually fade. Let’s take a look at some.
- Fever and loss of appetite
- Tender, swollen and warm joints
- Stiffness of the joints, which is usually worse after morning activities
Early rheumatoid arthritis usually affects the smaller joints first, especially the joints that attach the fingers to the hands and toes to the feet. Once the disease starts progressing, the symptoms, most times, spread to the knees, ankles, hips, elbows, wrists, and shoulders.
Most people who are dealing with RA usually experience signs and symptoms that don`t involve the joints. Some non-joint structures that are also affected are:
- Blood vessels
- Bone marrow
- Nerve tissue
- Salivary glands
Complications of Rheumatoid Arthritis
The disease alongside medications used to combat rheumatoid arthritis can impair the immune system, causing increased infections.
One is at a high risk of getting osteoporosis, a condition that weakens the bones and makes them fracture.
Individuals with this disease have an increased risk of inflammations and scarring of the lung tissues which can lead to continuous shortness of breath.
These are firm bumps of tissue that usually form around pressure points such as the elbows.
Dry Eyes and Mouth
People with this disease experience Sjogren’s syndrome, which is a disorder that decreases the amount of moisture in the mouth and eyes.
They may also be at high risk of developing heart-related issues. RA can increase the risk of hardened and blocked arteries, as well as inflammation of the sac that encloses the heart.
How to Diagnose Rheumatoid Arthritis
It is difficult to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis at the early stage because most times, the early signs and symptoms can be related to many other diseases. However, the doctor can conduct a physical examination to check for swelling, redness, and warmth of the joints. The doctor can also check for reflexes and muscle strength.
Elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR or sed rate) and C-reactive protein (CRP) are tests that may help indicate the presence of an inflammatory process in the body.
X-rays may also be recommended by the doctor to help trace the progression of rheumatoid arthritis on one’s joint over time. Ultrasound tests and MRI can also help the doctor determine the severity of the disease.
How to Treat Rheumatoid Arthritis
There is no known cure for rheumatoid arthritis. If treatments begin early with medications known as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), the symptoms can be decreased. The type of medication will also depend on the severity of the symptoms and how long one has had the disease. Here are some treatment options.
Prednisone, a corticosteroid medication, helps reduce inflammation and pain, as well as slows joint damage. It has side effects such as weight gain, diabetes, and thinning of bones. This medication is prescribed to relieve acute symptoms.
Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
These are anti-inflammatory drugs that help reduce pain and inflammation. Some over-the-counter NSAIDs include naproxen (Aleve) and ibuprofen (Advil). The side effects of these drugs are kidney damage, stomach irritation, and heart conditions.
Disease-Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs (DMARDs)
These are drugs that can help slow the progression of rheumatoid arthritis and also save the joints and other tissues from permanent damage. Some of these drugs are leflunomide (Arava) and Sulfasalazine (Azulfidine).
If medications fail to prevent or manage the symptoms, surgery may be considered to help repair damaged joints. It will also help restore one’s ability to use the joints, reduce pain, and improve function.
Here are some procedures for rheumatoid arthritis surgery:
Inflammation and joint damage can cause the tendons around your joint to either loosen or rupture. A surgeon can be able to repair the tendons around the joint.
This is a surgery done to remove the inflamed lining of the joints known as synovium. It can be performed on the knees, wrists, and elbows.
Total Joint Replacement
Damaged parts of the joints are removed, and a prosthesis, either made of metal or plastic is inserted.
Home Remedies for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Exercise can help strengthen the muscles around the joints and also help fight the fatigue one might feel. Consult your doctor before you start exercising. Also, avoid exercising tender or severely inflamed joints.
Apply Heat or Cold
Heat can help ease pain and also relax painful and tense muscles. Cold has a numbing effect that can reduce swelling and also dull the sensation of pain.
Find time to relax and also ways to cope with the pain. You can do deep breathing and muscle relaxation to control the pain.
Now that you Know…
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic disease that does not have a cure yet, and its severity varies from one person to the other. Symptoms can either be mild or severe. Early treatment is highly important to help delay severe joint damage. If you are experiencing any symptoms, you are advised to consult your doctor immediately to advert any future damage.