What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid Arthritis is a form of Arthritis that affects the whole body instead of just one part. The other forms of Arthritis are localized in one area such as the knees or fingers but Rheumatoid Arthritis is a more dangerous form of that because it affects the whole body at the same time.
R.A is an autoimmune disease1 in which the body starts to attack the joints in the body considering them to be a foreign substance. This attack causes inflammation which in turn thickens the synovial fluid which is essential for greasing and lubricating the joints. This inflammation, if it is not treated, can lead to damaged cartilages as well as bones. Since Rheumatoid Arthritis affects the whole body, it can cause stiffness and pain in any of the joints.
What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Since Rheumatoid Arthritis is an auto-immune disease, medical experts are still not sure what the cause is for the body to attack itself. Currently the experts believe that there is a combination of environmental and genetic factors. There is also the belief that hormones play a role as well because over 70% of the patients of Rheumatoid Arthritis are women. This leads people to believe that hormonal changes or developments play a huge part because there are constant hormonal changes that occur in women. In fact most Rheumatoid Arthritis patients are women aged 20-60 whereas the male patients are often above the age of 50.
The genetic part of the disease cannot be ignored either. People that have the genetic marker called the HLA shared epitope have a 5 times higher chance of developing Rheumatoid Arthritis than people without this marker. This does not mean that the presence of this marker determines this disease. There are patients without this marker and there are people with this marker that have gone their whole lives without being affected by Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Environmental factors also play a part. Rheumatoid Arthritis can develop due to environmental factors in a number of ways. It can be caused because of physical or emotional trauma, infectious viruses or bacteria, cigarette smoke, air pollution and insecticides.
Signs and Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis:
There are a lot of Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms which increase in intensity and frequency as the disease progresses. The first thing that people tend to notice is pain and sensitivity in their joints. That happens when the disease is still in its early stage. The other symptoms include:
- Pain in the joints that lasts for more than six weeks.
- Stiffness in the joints that lasts more than six weeks.
- Stiffness of the whole body early in the morning that lasts for at least 30 minutes.
- Multiple joints are affected, especially ones that have dual partners such as wrists and knees.
- A small fever that accompanies the pain.
- Tiredness and fatigue.
- A loss of appetite.
Since the whole body is affected, there are certain other things that are affected other than the joints. The other parts of the body that are affected are:
- Eyes: The eyes can become swollen and dry. You might also experience sensitivity to light and altered vision.
- Mouth: You might feel as if your mouth is constantly dry and your gums might become affected as well. Your gums might become infected or they might swell which causes additional pain.
- Skin: Rheumatoid Arthritis can also affect the skin. Lumps may form under the skin which covers the bony parts of your body such as over your fingers or toes.
- Lungs: The lungs can become inflamed which can cause shortness of breath.
- Blood: Your red blood cell count may fall resulting in Anemia.
- Blood Vessels: Blood vessels can also become inflamed resulting in damage to the skin, nerves and other organs as well.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment:
The first step to treating Rheumatoid Arthritis is to diagnose it correctly. There isn’t just one test that can check if you have it. It requires you to see a professional, a rheumatologist. This medical professional has specialized in this disease and can determine whether you have Rheumatoid Arthritis or not. There are multiple things that this professional will do. The first thing that they ask for is medical history. This is to see whether there is a family history of the disease because this disease can be passed on through genes.
Next, they will perform a physical exam to check what hurts and what is inflamed. This exam is also accompanied with a blood test in order to check the inflammation levels as well as the antibodies that are present when the body is faced with Rheumatoid Arthritis.
The treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis can be a lengthy process. The ultimate goal of the treatment is to stop the inflammation process and reduce the swelling that has already taken place. The treatment process also includes a lot of Rheumatoid Arthritis medications. The treatment process is very low on surgical options. The only time that people with R.A opt for surgery is when the joint has been damaged so much that they cannot carry on their daily lives without significant trouble. In this case the joint is replaced with plastic or metal, and recently there have been breakthroughs in joint replacement surgery which make the process safe and effective.
There are two types of medications that are involved in the treatment process. The first are the medications that reduce the symptoms so that you feel more at ease. This can be done with NSAIDs, which are Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs. These reduce the pain as well as the other symptoms that come with R.A.
The medications that are used to reduce the swelling are multiple. There are basically 4 types of medications that are used to reduce the inflammation. They are:
- DMARDs2, or Disease Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs.
- Biologics, which are a subset of DMARDs.
- JAK Inhibitors, which are also a subset of DMARDs.
These medications are used in different cases, the decision on which to use is up to your doctor.
- WebMD - What Are Autoimmune Disorders?
- WebMD - Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis With Disease - Modifying Drugs (DMARDs)