All About Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic, systemic and inflammatory disease and is classified as an autoimmune connective tissue disease. An autoimmune disease is one caused by problems with the immune system. The body fails to recognize its own cells and creates antibodies against them. These new antibodies cause local and systemic reactions.
Rheumatoid Arthritis causes inflammation in the joints and joint deformity. The disease is not as common as Osteoarthritis although about 3 million people in the U.S. have it.
In Canada RA affects about 1 of every 100 persons. The disease is more common among women than men (3:1 ratio). By the age of 65, though, men are equally affected. The usual age of onset is 25 to 50, although it can affect people of all ages. It even occurs sometimes in toddlers.
WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS FOR RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS?
It is believed that more than one factor causes RA. Some, but not all, of the people affected by RA have other family members with the disease. It is possible that bacteria or a virus may trigger the disease, although this has not been definitely proven.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF RA?
RA starts out with increasing fatigue for most affected persons. Other symptoms are widespread musculoskeletal pain, low-grade fever, and decreased appetite. Weight loss occurs. The disease attacks the joint lining (synovium), causing inflammation and damage to cartilage and bone. The joints may also be swollen and range of motion decreased. RA causes pain and stiffness in the joints. Unlike OA, the pain with RA does not go away with rest.
Joint stiffness occurs after periods of inactivity. Morning stiffness may take a long time to resolve. Joints on both sides of the body tend to be affected. For example, if one knee is affected, the other knee will be affected as well. Rheumatoid nodules tend to occur. A nodule is a small, rounded mass. Rheumatoid nodules are firm and non tender. They are most often found in the wrist, knee, elbow, and finger joints. Joint deformities occur over time.
RA is often marked by flare-ups and remissions that sometimes last for many years. Over time, the episodes of inflammation lead to a loss of joint function. The disease is not limited to the joints. RA affects connective tissue anywhere in the body – the heart, lungs, kidneys, eyes, and skin. The joints are mainly affected.
DIAGNOSING RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS
Diagnosis stems from the symptoms, the pain pattern, and lab and x-ray results. A lab test to detect the rheumatoid factor (RF) can help to diagnose RA. It may take some time, however, for RF levels to rise in someone affected by RA. As well, RF has been found in persons with no signs of the disease.
TREATMENT FOR RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS
Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent joint damage. Treatment includes meds, rest, an exercise program, protection of the joints and possibly surgery if other treatment measures do not work. The aim is to control pain, maintain movement of the joints, and prevent deformities from occurring. Rest must be balanced with an exercise program.
Did you know that stress tightens muscles and worsens pain? On the other hand, relaxation techniques, such as meditation, listening to music, or deep breathing exercises may help to reduce pain. Heat or cold therapy may also be useful for RA. Different types of meds are used to treat the disease. You should always be aware of potential side effects of any drugs and report these to the physician.