What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?


Rheumatoid Arthritis



What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

RA xrayRheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a chronic, systemic (affects the whole body) autoimmune disorder that primarily affects the joints. Normally, our immune system fights off infection and foreign particles. In autoimmune diseases, the body’s own immune system starts to attack the body’s healthy tissue instead of foreign matter such as bacteria or viruses. In RA, the immune system starts to attack the joints, causing chronic inflammation that results in pain, stiffness and swelling of the affected joints. 

RA can attack just about any joint in the body, but most commonly it affects the wrists, hands, feet and ankles bilaterally (on both sides of the body), and the cervical spine. It can lead to the joints becoming damaged and deformed (known as swan neck deformity in the fingers, and boutonnière deformities in the thumb and wrist). The disease may also affect other parts of the body. In some cases, people may develop subcutaneous rheumatoid nodules (bumps under the skin) from long term irritation or pressure. RA may also affect the lungs, kidneys, heart and blood vessels.

While the cause of RA is not known, it is thought that it is due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors, such as viral infection or smoking. 


What does Rheumatoid Arthritis Feel Like? The Signs And Symptoms Of RA. 

RA handRA usually has a gradual onset over a period of weeks to months. As the body’s immune system starts to attack the joints, inflammation and thickening of the joint capsule results, and eventually the underlying bone and cartilage are affected as well. The progression of RA cannot be predicted for individual sufferers, but the disease generally progresses quickly within the first six years, with joint deformities usually presenting by the tenth year.

It often begins with early morning stiffness of the affected joints, lasting for longer than one hour. The affected joints can be swollen, hot and painful. Other possible early signs of rheumatoid arthritis are: tingling in the hands, sore feet, skin nodules, fatigue in the afternoon, anorexia, general weakness, and occasionally a low grade fever. RA can also affect your heart, lungs, eyes, or mouth.

Rheumatoid arthritis can last for a period of several years, or it may be intermittent over a lifetime, with periods of “flare ups” where the joints become hot, swollen and painful (active), followed by periods of relatively mild symptoms (remission). 

Since there isn’t any diagnostic test for RA, diagnosis is usually made from a combination of clinical signs and symptoms, x-rays and lab/blood tests (such as Serum Rheumatoid Factor, present in approx. 80{95f364b8aea3ba4afb976a81c1dcc2e8147daac1866ef443968911255633a999} of cases).

Approximately 1{95f364b8aea3ba4afb976a81c1dcc2e8147daac1866ef443968911255633a999} of the population are affected by RA, with women being affected 2 to 3 times more often then men. Onset may be at any age, but most often between 35 and 50 years. It can occur also during childhood, and this is referred to as Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis.

RA is the second most common form of arthritis after osteoarthritis.


Rheumatoid Arthritis vs. Osteoarthritis

Where RA is the result of inflammation, causing hot, swollen and painful joints and causes destruction of the joints, osteoarthritis is a non-inflammatory joint disease. Osteoarthritis is due to degeneration of the joint, causing the cartilage to wear and become thinner than normal. OA typically affects the joints asymmetrically, compared to RA which affects the same joints on both sides of the body at the same time (symmetrically). Osteoarthritis is much more common than RA, particularly as we age, and is differentiated on X-rays.


Treatment Of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Although there is no cure, treatment in rheumatoid arthritis can help to improve the symptoms and slow the progress of the disease. Treatment for RA is more effective when it is started early.

Treatment focuses on reducing inflammation, limiting joint deformities, pain relief and improving the person’s ability to function. Medications used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis include NSAIDs, DMARDs, TNF alpha inhibitors, IL-6 inhibitors, T-cell activation inhibitors, B-cell depletors, JAK inhibitors, immunosuppressants, and steroids.

A more rounded approach to the treatment and pain relief of RA symptoms should include lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, smoking cessation, adequate rest, but not bed rest, and a nutritious diet.

Many people also prefer to avoid the side-effects of medications, and seek out more natural therapies. In the next article we will look at the most effective natural cures for Rheumatoid Arthritis relief. This will include dietary advise as well as recommended supplements that are well known to help rheumatoid arthritis.


Next Page: Natural Cures For Rheumatoid Arthritis Relief


If you have any questions, or would like to share your own experience, please leave us a comment below.

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