Rheumatoid Arthritis: What You Should Know?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an auto-immune disease which causes joint problems like swelling, pain, stiffness and loss of functions. It usually affects the small joints of the wrist, hands and feet and sometime cause misalignment of the joints. The damage in joints due to RA is symmetrical, i.e. if a joint is affected on one of the body, then the same joint on the other side of the body will also be affected by it. It is a chronic disease, i.e. if you have RA, you’ll probably have it in the rest of your life.
This disease is quite different from other forms of arthritis because it is auto-immune wherein the defense mechanism of the body starts attacking the healthy tissues. In this disease, the immune system attacks the synovium, which is the membrane that lines the joints. The attack on the synovium damages it such that it starts swelling. Eventually, the joint cartilage starts eroding, which leads to destruction of joint and loss of function.
RA can also affect other organs like mouth, eyes and lungs.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 1.5 million Americans have Rheumatoid arthritis. This disease is two to three percent more common among women than men. Usually, it is diagnosed in people above 40 years of age. The largest group of RA sufferers is women over 55 years.
Let us now discuss the causes of RA, symptoms and treatments.
Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis:
Healthcare professionals don’t know what really causes RA. As per the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, researchers suspect a combination of genetic susceptibility and other factors for the development of RA. However, no one actually knows what makes our immune system to turn against our body.
Although doctors are yet to know about the causes of RA, they have identified certain risk factors for this disease. Some of the risk factors include age, family history, smoking, gender and hormones.
Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis:
The symptoms of RA range from mild to severe. Most people with RA do not experience any constant symptoms. Instead, they have flare-ups which are followed by relatively symptom-free periods also known as remissions. The joint problems caused by RA get worse over the time since the symptoms of this disease are progressive.
The early symptoms of RA are usually mild such that many people may not notice them for several years. Some of the symptoms are not even associated with joint pain. Loss of appetite, unexplained fever and feeling of unwell are common symptoms of RA in the initial stages.
Some of the key symptoms of RA that occur with the progress of this disease include painless, red lumps on the skin, especially on toes, knees and elbows, dry mouth, painfully dry eyes, red and swollen painful joints, chest pain and difficulty in breathing.
Early treatment is essential to delay the serious damage caused by RA over the number of years.
Treatments: What options are available to treat RA?
There are a number of treatments that can help to alleviate the symptoms like flare-ups during the RA.
- Change your lifestyle:Pay close attention to your lifestyle. Include proper diet and exercises to ease the pain related to arthritis. Maintaining strong and healthy muscles helps to sustain mobility and flexibility in people suffering with RA. Ensure to rest during the flare-ups to reduce the pain and inflammation.
- Physical Therapy:Visit a physical therapist who will observe your problems and symptoms and then offer you solutions to reduce the swelling and pain. This will in turn help you to improve the quality of your life. The physical therapy may include using various self-help devices like long-handled shoehorns, grabbers, raised toilet seats, extra depth shoes with semi rigid soles to make your daily tasks easier and less painful. You may also be required to wear split to support your painful joints.
- Drugs and Medications:Most people who suffer from RA are usually prescribed a combination of several types of medications. Basically, there are four major categories of RA drugs.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which are used to get relieve from long-term pain and inflammation
- Corticosteroids which are used to reduce short term pain and inflammation
- Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) which slows the progression of RA
- Biologic agents that interrupt your body’s inflammation process
- Surgery:This is the last resort for treating RA, which is used only if your drug therapy stops working or your joints had damaged severely. There are different types of surgeries used in RA.
- Tendon repair/reconstruction is most commonly used on the hands, to reattach and repair the damaged tendons to restore function and movement.
- Total joint replacement or arthroplasty in which the damaged parts of joints are completely removed and replaced with prosthetics made of plastic or metals.
- Joint fusion or arthrodesis in which a damaged joint is removed and affected bones are fused together using the bone grafts which are usually taken from the pelvis.
- Synovectomy which removes the inflamed synovial tissue to reduce the swelling and pain.
image source: directorsblog.nih.gov