Rheumatoid Arthritis Guide
• What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
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|Terminology: Rheumatoid Arthritis is also known as rheumatism.
What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease that typically affects the smaller joints in your hands and feet. It attacks the lining of the joints causing them to become tender and swollen. Eventually this inflammation damages the joint bones and surrounding muscles leading to crippling deformity. Rheumatism is a progressive disease, which means it worsens over time. Although it can strike at any age, it typically starts between the ages of 20 and 50. Rheumatoid arthritis is also a systemic disease. This means it can affect multiple organs and tissues of the body, causing inflammation of the heart, lungs and kidney muscles. Recent research indicates a significant increase in the risk of heart attack in patients with the disease. Rheumatoid arthritis affects 3 times as many women as men. There is currently no cure, but the sooner it is diagnosed and treated, the better the chance of slowing the progression of the condition.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the most common form of synovitis. Synovitis is an inflammation of the synovial membrane - soft tissue that line the joints. The synovial membrane produces a lubricant called synovial fluid which helps bones to glide over each other when we move. With RA, the body's immune system mistakes the cells of the synovial membrane as foreign invaders. It mounts an attack against the membranes, causing the tissue to thicken and swell. The joint appears red, swollen and puffy to touch. Increased blood flow to the battle zone makes it feel warm. The cells of the membrane also release enzymes which increases pain. If the process continues for years, as it often does, these enzymes gradually digest nearby bone and cartilage until they become misshapen or shift out of place becoming immobile.
Although symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can vary in severity and may come and go over time, persistent joint pain that lasts 6 weeks or longer is usually a typical sign of RA. Other typical symptoms include:
Other conditions associated with rheumatoid arthritis:
Scientists still don't know what causes RA, but it is believed to be the result of a faulty immune response. The immune system illogically makes antibodies to attack healthy tissues in the body. Read, about the risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis.
An early diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis can be challenging because symptoms like fever, weakness, and muscle soreness could be symptoms of many other conditions: such as lupus, scleroderma, fibromyalgia, polymyositis and rheumatic fever (rheumatic fever sometimes develops after strep throat and can cause arthritis symptoms). A physical examination, including possibly X-rays will be performed. Blood tests will also be carried out. These may include:
There are 3 possible ways the disease can progress:
There is no cure for the condition so patients need to learn how to live with it. Rheumatoid arthritis medications, physical and occupational therapy, lifestyle adjustments and in severe cases surgery may be required. No single drug or therapy works with all patients, or even with the same patient all of the time. A treatment plan should be put together by a rheumatologist (doctor specializing in RA) in consultation with the patient. See, treatment for rheumatoid arthritis for more details.
• RA has no effect on menstrual cycles or fertility.
RA accounts for about 22 percent of all deaths related to arthritis. About 40 percent of deaths due to RA have a cardiovascular cause, including heart attack and stroke. Among patients with RA, the presence of rheumatoid factor and/or anti-citrullinated protein antibody (ACPA) are potential markers for premature death. The following is a list of 4 conditions that are associated with premature death in people with RA:
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For more on aches and pains, see the following:
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