Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation of the joints and other body systems.
It is caused when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints, leading to swelling, pain and stiffness. This inflammation can also affect other parts of the body, including the skin, eyes, lungs and heart.
Rheumatoid arthritis is more common in women than men, and usually occurs between the ages of 30 and 50.
Symptoms can vary from person to person, but common ones include joint pain and stiffness, fatigue, fever, loss of appetite and depression.
The condition can be managed with medications, lifestyle changes, physical therapy and exercise.
While the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can vary from person to person, there are some common signs and symptoms that you should be aware of.
Joint Pain: It is the most common symptom of RA, and affects most people with the condition. Pain tends to be most severe in the morning or after periods of inactivity.
Swelling: Swelling in the joints is another common symptom of RA. The swelling may be accompanied by warmth or redness in the area.
Stiffness: Stiffness in the joints is another symptom of RA, and is usually worse in the morning or after periods of inactivity.
Fatigue: Fatigue is also common in people with RA, and can range from mild to severe.
Fever: Some people with RA may experience fever or other flu-like symptoms.
Weight Loss: Unexplained weight loss is a possible symptom of RA.
While the exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown, there are a number of factors that may increase the risk of developing the condition.
Genetics: Certain genetic mutations (HLA class II) may increase the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
Autoimmune Disorders: Conditions such as lupus and Sjogren’s syndrome can increase the risk of developing the condition.
Smoking: Smoking has been linked to an increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
Age: Rheumatoid arthritis is more common in adults over the age of 50.
Gender: Women are more likely to develop the condition than men.
Environmental Factors: Exposure to certain environmental factors, such as asbestos or silica, may increase the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
It is often diagnosed based on your symptoms, family history and physical examination.
Blood tests are often used to diagnose RA. These tests measure levels of certain proteins in the blood that are associated with RA, such as rheumatoid factor (RF) and antinuclear antibodies (ANA).
X-rays may also be used to diagnose RA by showing evidence of joint damage such as bone erosion or joint deformity.
MRI scans can provide detailed images of the joints, which can help diagnose RA and monitor its progression over time.
The diagnosis of RA is important as it helps guide treatment decisions and allows for early intervention. Early diagnosis and treatment are important as they can help reduce inflammation and slow the progression of RA.
Treatment and Management
The most common treatment is medication, which can help reduce inflammation and relieve pain.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are often prescribed, as well as corticosteroids, biologics and conventional disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs).
In addition to medication, physical therapy can help reduce pain and improve mobility. Exercise, heat & cold therapy and lifestyle changes such as healthy diet and quitting smoking, can also help reduce symptoms.
For some people, surgery may be necessary in order to repair or replace damaged joints.
Medications for Rheumatoid arthritis
There are a good number of medications available which can help relieve the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. These medications fall into two categories:
NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, naproxen and celecoxib are often used to reduce pain and inflammation. These drugs can be taken orally or applied directly to the affected area.
DMARDs are used to slow down or even reverse the progression of rheumatoid arthritis. Common DMARDs include methotrexate, hydroxychloroquine, leflunomide and sulfasalazine. Some of these drugs can be taken orally, while others must be injected or given intravenously.
These listings are for general awareness only, and in no way an encouragement towards self-medication. Self-medication can be both harmful and fatal, so it is better to consult your doctor and let him treat your condition.
What are the four stages of rheumatoid arthritis?
It evidently progresses through four stages:
- The first stage is the early stage, which is characterised by mild joint pain, stiffness and swelling.
- The second stage is the moderate stage, where symptoms become more severe and joint damage begins to occur.
- The third stage is the severe stage, where symptoms become debilitating and joint damage is advanced.
- The fourth stage is the end stage, which is marked by severe joint damage and disability (ankylosis, a condition in which bones fuse together).
Please note that the stages and progression of the condition can vary from person to person, and not all progress through all the four stages.
And ankylosis is a rare condition affecting only 0.8%.
What are The Complications of Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Over time, this inflammation can cause damage to the cartilage, bone and other structures in the joint, leading to the development of deformities and disability.
Common complications of RA include joint damage, loss of mobility, eyesight problems, lung disease, heart disease and bone fractures.
In addition to these physical complications, people with RA may also experience emotional and social complications such as depression and isolation.
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Sources: CDC, Mayo Clinic (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), Cleveland Clinic, Arthritis Foundation (1, 2), ACR, Versus Arthritis, Medline Plus, Medical News Today, Healthline (1, 2), Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center, PubMed (1, 2), Clinical and Experimental Rheumatology.
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