arthritis is a disabling condition affecting nearly 1.5 million Americans, as of a 2007 data count. This form
of arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects the joint lining,
as opposed to being caused by wear and tear like osteoarthritis. It is
considered to be an autoimmune disorder, which means that a person's immune
system is attacking their body instead of guarding it. Joint deformity and bone
erosion can eventually result and this is most often seen in the hands, feet,
and other small joints.
What causes rheumatoid arthritis?
is not known what causes RA. It is believed that genes,
hormonal changes, and infection may play a role in developing this condition.
Middle-age women are most often affected, but this condition can occur at any
age and affect both genders. Smoking and having a family history of this
condition are also thought to play a role.
What are the symptoms of rheumatoid
the early stages, the small joints will likely be affected first. The hands,
fingers, feet, and toes are usually the first joints to show symptoms. As this
condition progresses, the ankles, hips, knees, elbows, and shoulders often
start to show symptoms. In the majority of cases, the symptoms will be
bilateral, meaning that they affect both sides of the body equally.
joints often become warm, tender, and swollen. Nodules may form under the arm
skin; morning stiffness, weight loss, fever, and fatigue are also possible.
people experience periods of remission and then a flareup, while for some, the
symptoms are rather constant.
How is rheumatoid arthritis treated?
of today, there is no known cure for this condition. There are medications
available to slow joint damage and reduce any associated pain. Physical and
occupational therapy may be helpful in teaching patients how to protect their
joints. In cases of severe damage, surgery may have to be performed.
anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be prescribed to help relieve inflammation
and pain. This type of medication comes in both prescription and
over-the-counter forms. Possible side effects range greatly and may include
stomach irritation, ringing in the ears, liver and kidney damage, and heart
a stronger medication is needed to reduce inflammation and pain, and slow joint
damage, a corticosteroid may be prescribed. This type of medication is
generally used short-term for acute exacerbations. Possible side effects may
include cataracts, diabetes, thinning of bones, and weight gain.
RA is considered an autoimmune condition, immunosuppressant medications may be
prescribed to calm the immune system down. The one downside is that these
medications may increase a person's vulnerability to infection.
anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) can be beneficial in saving the joints from
permanent damage and slowing disease progression. Side effects may include
bone-marrow suppression, liver damage and severe lung infections.
inhibitors can help to inhibit the natural production of an inflammatory
substance called tumor necrosis factor. This can help in reducing morning
stiffness, pain, and swollen or tender joints.
surgery becomes necessary, there are three primary types that may be performed,
depending on the patient's needs. A total joint replacement is just that -- it
replaces joints that are severely damaged. If a patient's joint inflammation
leads to tendon rupture or loosening, a tendon-repair surgery may be done. To
realign or stabilize a joint, a joint fusion may be done. This is also
considered when a patient cannot have total joint replacement.
Rheumatoid arthritis prognosis
severity of a person's symptoms will ultimately determine their prognosis. A
more severe form of RA is generally seen in those with anti-CCP antibody,
rheumatoid factor, or subcutaneous nodules. The nodules can be palpated and the
other two factors can be found in blood work.
treatment is critical, because the wrong or no treatment can result in
permanent joint damage. Getting early and correct treatment can help in
decreasing joint damage and joint pain.