Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a well known condition that affects quite an alarming number of people across the globe. Only in the United States alone, somewhere around 1.5 million people have been diagnosed with this disease. Three times more women than men are confronted with RA. While in women this condition can appear after the age of 30, among men it occurs later in life. Those who suspect they might experience rheumatoid arthritis themselves, might find useful reading the following information:


Rheumatoid Arthritis Overview & Facts

RA – rheumatoid arthritis – can be shortly defined as an autoimmune condition. The body’s immune system naturally keeps its health protected by attacking any foreign substances, such as viruses or bacteria. The disease is triggered when the immune system mistakenly attacks the protective linings of the joints. This will automatically cause inflammation, making the joint lines to thicken, and thus causing pain and swelling, the likelihood of the bones and cartilage breaking down being very high. When the inflammation is left untreated the effect it will have on the cartilage and bones can lead to loss of mobility and joint deformity. Because it is not possible for joint damage to be reversed, the disease needs to be spotted early in order for the patient to start the necessary treatment.


Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms

When the rheumatoid arthritis is at an early stage, managing to notice any swelling or redness around the joints might not be possible, but one can experience pain or tenderness. However, there are quite a few symptoms that might help a potential patient suspect they are confronted with RA:

  • Stiffness in the morning for around 30 minutes or even more
  • Swelling, pain, tenderness, and stiffness in the joints fore more than six weeks
  • More joints are affected
  • Small joints are usually the ones where patients notice the problems – joints of the feet and hands or wrists)
  • Both sides of the body’s joins are affected

Rheumatoid arthritis can also affect certain body systems and organs in the following ways:

  • Impaired vision, together with sensitivity to light, eye redness and pain, dryness
  • The appearance of small lumps under the skin in certain areas around the body – bumps called rheumatoid nodules.
  • Gum irritation or even infection, as well as mouth dryness.
  • Blood vessels face inflammation, which can trigger damage in the skin, nerve as well as other organs.
  • Shortness of breath caused by lung scarring and inflammation
  • A lowering in blood cells number, which is linked to anemia.

Besides pain, redness or other clear indicators of this condition, some people might also experience a state of fatigue, a low fever, and even a loss in appetite. The symptoms will go eventually, but reappear later. A longer period of time during which a patients deal with intense signs is called a flare, which can last even moths.


Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosis

Based on symptoms and signs, either the patients theses or a care physician might suspect rheumatoid arthritis being present. However, the one who can actually put a clear diagnosis is a rheumatologist, an expert who actually has the training, qualification and resources necessary to identify the condition. Because there is not just one test that can provide accurate results, and because RA can easily resemble to other inflammatory problems, the specialist usually asks information about medical and family history, performs a physical exam and later orders certain diagnostic tests.

  • Physical exam – after asking the patient about their medical and family history, in order to establish their predisposition to this condition, the next step taken by the specialist is the performance of a physical exam. This involves the examination of each joint, in search for any inflammation, tenderness, limited movement, warmth, swelling or pain. The pattern as well as the number of joints that seem to be affected also help conclude if rheumatoid arthritis is the one causing the symptoms. Through this form of exam, other warning signs could be encountered, such as fever or rheumatoid nodules, for example.
  • Imaging tests – erosions, or any other type of joint damages triggered by RA can be encountered through magnetic or ultrasound resonance imaging scans or x-rays. Narrowing of joints can also be spotted through this method. Image tests can show the damage and make it easier to diagnose the condition. However, if no conclusive results are provided, that does not exclude the presence of the disease, because RA might still be at an early stage, and the joins have not started to be affected yet.
  • Blood tests – these will enable the doctor to measure the inflammation level, as well as spot any biomarkers that might be linked to RA, such as antibodies.
  • Antibodies – RF known as rheumatoid factor is a type of antibody, which can be found in around 70 to 80 percent of people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, during one of the condition’s stages. However, because RF can sometimes be present in other inflammatory conditions, it still remains an uncertain sign of RA. Another antibody, on the other hand, anti CCP, is said to be found primarily in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.  Anti CCP can be spotted even before symptoms start being experienced.

Through a cumulation of these methods, a doctor who specializes in this medical field is able to provide a RA diagnosis.


Risk Factors – What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?

It has been stated that an abnormal response of the immune system is the one that plays an essential role in the joint damage and inflammation that appears with RA. Although the exact causes of rheumatoid arthritis are not yet been fully discovered by researchers, there are a few factors that are known to heighten a person’ risks of facing rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Age – this condition, although can appear at any age, develops more commonly in people over the age of 40, and before the age of 60.
  • Family History – those whit RA running in the family are more prone to developing the condition themselves.
  • Sex – according to studies, rheumatoid arthritis is more frequently met among women than men, which makes a person’s sex a risk factor. 10 percent of RA patients are women.
  • Obesity – although not exactly concluded, researchers have said that overweight or obese people have increased likelihood of facing a RA diagnosis.
  • Smoking – this bad habit can also heighten one’s risk of dealing with RA, especially in the cases where the condition runs in the family
  • Certain environmental exposures might actually have a slight role in the development of the disease, although this still remains uncertain. Being exposed to asbestos or silica can influence a person’s predisposition to RA.
  • Physical and/or emotional trauma

Researchers continue to investigate the condition, in order to find other factors that thigh play a role.


Rheumatoid Arthritis Complications

Although at an early stage, the progress of Rheumatoid Arthritis can be stopped, preventing the disease from causing any major, worrying repercussion, when it is left untreated, RA increases one’s risks of dealing with the following:

  • Osteoporosis – patients with RA are more prone to developing osteoporosis, a disease that weakens bones, being more sensitive to potential fractures.
  • Certain infections – the condition itself together with the medication taken can make the immune system weaker, leading to the easier appearance of various infections.
  • Carpal Tunnel syndrome – if the RA is present in the wrists, the inflammation will negatively impact hand and finger nerves triggering carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Lung disease
  • Heart problems – arteries can become blocked and hardened, and the sac enclosing the patient’s heart could also become inflated due to RA.
  • Rheumatoid nodules – patients risk forming firm bums of tissue anywhere in the body, especially around pressure points
  • Lymphoma


Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment & Care

In the case of any patient, the role of RA a treatment is to relive symptoms, stop inflammation, prevent further joint or organ damage, reduce the risk of dealing with potential complications, and improve well being –  basically to put the condition into remission. Although there is no exact cure for this disease, in order to actually access the desired treatment goals, doctors usually resort to the following treatment options or strategies:

  • Medications – there is a wide range of drugs that can be sued to ameliorate, reduce or stop RA symptoms. Nonsteroidal anti inflammatory drugs, which come in both prescription and over the counter options, can ease pain, as well as inflammation. Some of the drugs can be applied on the skin as a cream or ointments, while other can be taken orally. Besides these types of medications, drugs that slow the activity of the disease are also necessary. From Corticosteroids and Biologics, to JAK inhibitors and DMARDs, there are various options in this department that can keep inflammation under control, modify, slow or stop the course of the disease, as well as improve the body’s immune response.
  • Surgery – although if spotted from an early state, and being treated according, rheumatoid arthritis does not require patients to undergo surgery, in some cases, this alternative can be an effective solution. Those who were not diagnosed on time, and are confronted with permanent joint damage, which of course limits their mobility and thus well being and quality of life, can regain their independence through surgery. What a joint replacement surgery does is restore function in the joints, and thus mobility, while relieving pain. The damaged parts in the joints are replaced during surgical intervention with plastic and metal ones. The most common join replacement interventions are on the hips and knees.


Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Living with rheumatoid arthritis can be often challenging, but there are few things patients are able to do in order to experience lesser unpleasant symptoms and manage comping with the disease. Besides the treatment prescribed by specialists,  self-management and self-care are also extremely relevant, being quite important in maintaining a proper quality of life. To promote overall health, and keep symptoms to minimal, besides taking prescribed medications patients should also focus on the following:

  • Healthy and anti-inflammatory diet – the foods a RA sufferer consumes have an important role. While there are not strict or specific rules, when it comes to the diet of a RA patient, several foods known for their anti-inflammatory proprieties could be beneficial to consume. Usually, meals should include fish, fruits, vegetables, as well as other healthy options. It is recommended for processed and fast foods to be cut off, because these are the ones that can often aggravate inflammation.
  • Getting enough rest – while RA sufferers can and should go on with their normal life activates, getting enough rest becomes more relevant when dealing with this condition. Active RA can make joints feel stiff, swollen and painful, so resting is needed, having the effect of reducing fatigue and inflammation, as well as protecting joints.
  • Engaging in physical activities – while rest has its own role, a through exercise program is also extremely relevant, being considered a part of the RA treatment. The physical activity schedule for patients with this condition should include low-impact aerobics, emphasizing on flexibility and muscle strengthening. The exercise program needs to be adequality tailored to suit the fitness capabilities of the patient, while keeping in mind that too much pressure should not be put on the joint. Patients are recommended to request the help of a physical therapist when creating the exercise program.
  • Support system and mindset – Because certain life changes will occur, maintaining a positive attitude can make a significant difference. The way patients deal and cope with their condition can actually influence how rapidly they are able to adapt their lifestyle to their current physical health situation. Resilience and enough emotional support from close ones is key.


Can Rheumatoid Arthritis Be Prevented

Unfortunately, Rheumatoid Arthritis is not the type of condition once can prevent, due to its yet not entirely discovered causes. However, patients can keep it from aggravating and stop or slow the progression of the condition with an easy, aggressive treatment.

Last updated on March 2nd, 2018

Chris Riley

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