Rheumatoid arthritis, commonly referred to as RA, is a disease characterized by a combination of an autoimmune disorder and inflammatory arthritis. In the chronic musculoskeletal disorder, the immune system, instead of protecting the human body from foreign cells, it attacks it own synovium membranes and organs. RA has no known cure, but early detection and aggressive treatment has shown to decrease damage to the joints and bodily organs. Arthritis is the number one cause of disability, but early intervention can decrease the risk of crippling deformity and immobility.
Rheumatoid arthritis boils down to an inflammation that targets the body’s thin membrane lining the joints. When RA attacks the joints, synovium fluid builds up resulting in symptoms. Symptoms occur in varying degrees of intensity depending on the severity of the attack. The affected joint may feel warmer than the surrounding area and be accompanied by swelling. Some people experience mild stiffness and pain while others have chronic symptoms that limit range of motion and mobility. Fatigue, low-grade fever, no appetite and anemia are common in people afflicted with RA.
In some people, symptoms are continual. Others may have periods of remission with no symptoms at all until another attack occurs. Rheumatoid arthritis is a symmetrical disease. When RA attacks a joint, the opposing joint is also affected. Long-term affects of RA can cause ligament, cartilage and joint damage and erode bones at the joint. Some people develop nodules of tissue under the skin. They commonly occur over boney pressure points of the body. Inflammation of the lungs and the membrane surrounding the lungs, heart and eyes can occur.
Children and adults of any age can contract the disease; however, it occurs more often in middle-aged adults. The cause of RA is not yet determined. Scientists are researching a combination of genetics, hormones, environmental influences, viruses, bacteria, smoking and stress as a potential cause of the chronic illness. A physician makes an RA diagnosis by a combination of a person’s medical history, the pattern of affected joints, x-rays, physical examination, and blood tests. Antibodies and high inflammation levels in the blood are indicative of RA.
Although RA is not curable, people who suffer from the disease can take action to decrease damage. Most people can control their weight, exercise and take precautions against injuries. People who are overweight put an extra four pounds of pressure on their knees for every one pound they are overweight. While exercise is often painful, it is essential to maintain mobility and strengthen weight-bearing muscles.
Medical treatment may consist of a combination of physical therapy, anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids and anti-rheumatoid drugs.
Due to some of the drugs side effects and those that suppress the immune system, close monitoring by a physician is crucial in maintaining good health. Until scientists find a cure for the autoimmune disease, an aggressive treatment plan may control the disease for years with minimal or no permanent damage. People who make lifestyle changes to reduce wear and tear on their joints can live normal lives for the most part.