Before we know more about rheumatoid arthritis, let us first discuss if what is arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic, multisystem, and inflammatory autoimmune disorder that will bring on an attack to the joints. It is a very crippling and painful condition that can lead to loss of mobility to the pain and joint devastation.
Rheumatoid arthritis is systemic and will also affect different tissues through the body, skin, blood vessels, heart, lungs and muscles.
A family history is important to the risk. It is three times more common in women than in men and up to four times more common in smokers than non-smokers.
If you’ve heard about arthritis, you would most likely have associated it with older patients, and with a lot of body pain.
You might not know it, but you could be suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Although rheumatoid arthritis is commonly associated with the older generation, people over the age of 65, the disease is found in younger generations – even including children.
Rheumatoid arthritis will affect anyone between the ages of 20 and 40 and can start anytime.
How could you tell if you have it?
Well, if you’re experiencing morning stiffness for no apparent reason like if you had done a lot of strenuous exercises the night before, you might be suffering from one of its symptoms.
As mild as you might think morning stiffness is, you really ought to give it some serious thought and consult with your doctor because if that morning stiffness is related to rheumatoid arthritis.
You can work to prevent it from disabling or crippling you later on down the road to a point where you can barely function.
Rheumatoid arthritis isn’t just a physical condition. It has the propensity to tax your mental and emotional state of well-being too.
This is because arthritis can change the way you work, the way you interact with your family, and the way you entertain yourself with recreational activities.
You might even know someone with rheumatoid arthritis and have observed how this disease changed not only his or her mobility but also his or her outlook on life.
Those of us without rheumatoid arthritis tend to take for granted our ability to move in any way we want, but when that ability slowly disappears right before our eyes, it’s no surprise that we get depressed about it.
But it doesn’t necessary have to be that way. With proper medications, education, support, and prescribed exercises, you could work to prevent the most severe forms of the disease – or at least prolong the worst case symptoms.
The symptoms will separate rheumatoid arthritis from other types of arthritis because of the inflammation and soft tissue swelling of many joints at the same time.
This is known as polyarthritis. The joints are usually affected asymmetrically and then will go on to the symmetrical part as the disease goes on.
It is not like the other forms of arthritis like osteoarthritis because the pain will move with the use of the joints that are affected.
As the disease goes on, the inflammatory activity will lead to the erosion and destruction of the joints that will impair their range of movement and lead to some deformity.
The fingers and the bones will deviate to the outside and towards the small finger and take on unnatural shapes.
Having deformities in patients that are dealing with rheumatoid arthritis will include the Boutonnière deformity, the swan neck deformity, and the “Z-thumb” deformity.
The term arthritis itself is derived from the Greek words for joint and inflammation and covers a group of health conditions that affect the body’s joints.
Arthritis has been known and recorded for centuries. The first case was reported to date as far back as 4500 BC. Very simply, arthritis involves swelling of the joints, such that mere movement can cause body pains.
Such joints are sensitive to changes in the weather, and elder patients suffering from arthritis claim that their pains are greatest in the morning, when they first rise.
Younger patients can also suffer from arthritis – the arthritic joint pain is not usually the general feature of juvenile arthritis, but the tendency to move, or the refusal to move at all, as in the case of especially young children.
Arthritis works in two ways. First, it inflames the muscles, ligaments, and cartilage that sit in-between joints. And it’s this inflammation that causes the pain, swelling, and heat.
Those are symptoms that are typical indications of an injury and they’re vital to understanding more about this disease.
Second, arthritis works by releasing enzymes that basically consume or otherwise destroy the muscles, ligaments, and cartilage that have become inflamed to a point where they’re not very useful and don’t allow for easy movement.
In the worse cases, cartilage disappears completely and as you can guess, this is extremely crippling and uncomfortable.
That’s why we call rheumatoid arthritis a disease. Typically, inflamed muscles, ligaments, and cartilage are the result of an injury, like falling on the knees for example.
But with arthritis, no injury has to occur. In fact, arthritis is a type of autoimmune disease and the cartilage inside joints is one of the things that it destroys.
And any joint can be affected – one, two, maybe even more but most of the time, the disease targets fingers, hips, feet, and knees.
Causes Of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means that your body has made antibodies in the immune system that attack the tissues that line the joints.
The synovium or joint lining becomes inflamed and thickened. Eventually, the cartilage becomes destroyed, leaving bone to rub on bone. In the most severe cases, the bone itself will erode as well.
The ligaments and tendons that connect the joints to other tissues will stretch out and weaken so that the joint itself begins to become deformed. Exactly how this autoimmune process works is not clear.
There may be both environmental and genetic factors playing into who gets rheumatoid arthritis and who doesn’t. It’s possible that genetics interacts with environmental things like infections to result in the disease.
Risk Factors For Rheumatoid Arthritis
There are certain factors in your life that may make it more likely that you’ll get the disease.
These include the following:
Family history. If a parent or sibling has rheumatoid arthritis, this may put you at an increased risk of getting the disease.
If you are female, you have a greater chance of getting the disease.
While it can occur in a person of any age, most people are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis between 40 and 60 years of age.
Complications Of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis isn’t just a disease of the joints. There are several complications of the disease that you should be aware of.
These include the following:
If you have rheumatoid arthritis, you stand a greater chance of also having scarring and inflammation of your lungs, which can cause you to feel short of breath.
Thinning of bones
You can get thinning of your bones just because you have rheumatoid arthritis. Alternatively, some of the medications used to treat the disease can cause weakened bones.
People with rheumatoid arthritis have a greater chance of having blocked arteries in the heart and an increased chance of pericardial sac inflammation.
Carpal tunnel syndrome
If you have rheumatoid arthritis in the wrist area, it can compress the carpal tunnel, which houses the median nerve. This can result in tingling and numbness of your hands and fingers.
Because rheumatoid arthritis is a multisystem disease, another disease, and conditions may form as a result of it. Many of the people that have rheumatoid arthritis will also have anemia.
Anemia is a problem of the red blood cells because there are not enough of them and or the hemoglobin and this will cause the lower ability of oxygen to be taken to the tissues.
It is a chronic disease and many will suffer from it and splenomegaly or the enlarging of the spleen.
Felty’s syndrome and Sjogren’s syndrome which is an autoimmune disorder in which the cells attack and ruin the exocrine glands and produce saliva and tears.
Dermatological will affect nodules on exterior surfaces. Fibrosis may occur in the lungs at any time or as a result of different treatments.
Tests For Rheumatoid Arthritis
In the early stages of the disease, rheumatoid arthritis can mimic other joint diseases, making it difficult to diagnose the disease.
A careful physical examination by your doctor might show characteristic findings of rheumatoid arthritis, including swelling of specific joints in the hands and the presence of rheumatoid nodules.
There is a blood test for rheumatoid arthritis that can clinch the diagnosis. It is called the “rheumatoid factor,” which is a test that detects the autoantibodies that are acting on your joints. Other tests for inflammation can help aid in the diagnosis of the disease.
There are characteristic x-ray findings for rheumatoid arthritis. The joints will look deformed and there will be a lack of joint space noted on x-ray as the disease progresses.
To diagnose arthritis and distinguish it from routine or simple joint pain, physicians conduct a battery of blood tests and x-rays.
Some blood tests can check for the presence of certain antibodies since some forms of arthritis arise out of the body’s immune system launching an attack on itself, making these forms of arthritis autoimmune disorders. X-rays, on the other hands, can show eroding bone or cartilage.
Once arthritis is diagnosed, treatment can proceed. Treatment can come in the form of surgery or drug treatment.
Those dealing with arthritis must also undergo occupational and physical therapy sessions so that they can recover the use of their limbs and keep their blood flow constant.
In all types of therapy, doctors ensure that stress on the affected joints is reduced, and pain is successfully managed.
The types of therapy to be used depend on the type of arthritis with which the patient is afflicted.
A few common types include the following.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic autoimmune disease, where the body’s immune system launches an attack on the joints, then moves on to affect other bodily organs such as the skin, heart, and lungs.
Psoriatic arthritis is also an autoimmune disorder with symptoms similar to rheumatoid arthritis. It is common in patients affected by psoriasis, a skin disease.
Septic arthritis is the wearing away of cartilage due to bacterial accumulation in and attack on the joints. This is usually caused by cuts or gashes that penetrate to the level of the bone and are left untreated or unwashed.
Osteoarthritis is caused by the wearing away of cartilage that protects the bone. Because of the great pain, they experience, patients with osteoarthritis may refuse to move, causing their muscles to atrophy.
A gout is a form of arthritis caused by the accumulation of crystals of uric acid in joints. Those affected with gout have to take a low purine diet or to stay away from high-protein foods such as sardines and certain types of fish, some mussels, sweetbreads such as kidneys and brains of animals, and alcohol.
If you think you have arthritis, consult a doctor about your condition and have the necessary tests performed.
If all signs point to a positive diagnosis, be sure to follow all instructions to the hilt:
– take all the medications prescribed,
– avoid all the foods that have to be avoided,
– and attend all therapy sessions if you are required to do so.
If you know someone with arthritis or are living with someone afflicted with the disease, take a role in monitoring the patient’s progress by making sure that the patient follows the therapy regimen or by watching the patient well following surgery.
Arthritis is a disease that requires patience, both on the part of the afflicted and the caregiver, so obey all instructions and ask questions if necessary.
There are several things for diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis. Having stiffness in the morning that goes on for longer than one hour is an example as is arthritis and soft tissue swelling of more than three out of 14 joints or in the joint groups.
Arthritis of hand joints like symmetric arthritis, subcutaneous nodules in specific places, a rheumatoid factor at a level above the 95th place and radiological changes that are suggested of joint erosion and are part of the criteria. There are at least four of these things hat have to be met in order to establish diagnoses.
Some Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis
When symptoms are mild, moderate exercising including stretching, weight lifting, and aerobics ease rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
Be sure to rest when your joints flare up as this would just add strain to your aching joints.
Stretching is important because it increases flexibility and is easy enough to do at any age. When stretching, stop when you feel mild discomfort and hold for 10 to 30 seconds.
Then, repeat 3 to 5 times. Weight lifting also improves flexibility as well as strength and balance. Barbells are easy, convenient, and inexpensive.
Remember to stretch before lifting any weights. Start with 3 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions. If you would like you can start with no weights at all (such as going leg lifts for rheumatoid arthritis in the knees), then add weights when you can. Lift the weights slowly and evenly to not damage the cartilage.
Some other popular forms of exercise for rheumatoid arthritis are aqua therapy and Tai Chi. Be sure to find an actual therapist as they have specific exercises they do for arthritis patients. Aerobics instructors may push too far and do further damage.
Tai Chi has no long term studies proving its effectiveness, but due to testimonials from patients who have taken Tai Chi, the Arthritis Foundation began offering the class. Remember to always check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.
The treatments for rheumatoid arthritis are going to be placed in disease modifying antirheumatic drugs or (DMARDS), anti-inflammatory agents and analgesics.
DMARDS is known to start durable remissions and delay the disease process, prevent bone and joint damage as well. It works best in the initial stages, so if you suspect you may have rheumatoid arthritis, see your doctor as soon as possible.
There are other options if you are in later stages of rheumatoid arthritis. These are also helpful if you are still in early stages.
One is to use anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. This does a great job reducing pain and inflammation.
However, these have side effects including heart problems and gastrointestinal bleeding. You can also use acetaminophen for your rheumatoid arthritis, which does not have these side effects.
Pharmacological treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis is divided into disease- modifying antirheumatic drugs, anti-inflammatory agents and analgesics.
Disease- modifying antirheumatic drugs have been found to produce durable remissions and delay or halt disease progression. This is not true of anti-inflammatories and analgesics.
Common disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs used to treat RA include Humira, Remicade, and Enbrel.
Typical anti-inflammatory agents include Glucocorticoids and non-steroidal anti- inflammatory drugs.
Analgesics include Acetaminophen, Opiates, and Lidocaine.
Other therapies include occupational therapy, physiotherapy, joint injections, and special tools to improve hard movements.
Some other ways to relieve rheumatoid arthritis pain are to lose weight to take additional pressure off joints, eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, using heat or ice, and possibly using devices such as a cane, brace, or splint.
Severely affected joints may require joint replacement surgery, such as knee replacement.
However, when drugs and surgery compound problems of rheumatoid arthritis rather than solve them, many people find relief by making consistent, lifelong changes to diet and lifestyle.
Many natural healing practitioners attribute rheumatoid arthritis to toxemia, which can be caused by several things, including but not limited to the many poisons that enter our systems through food, air, and skin.
The course of the disease varies greatly from patient to patient. Some patients have mild short-term symptoms, but in most the disease is progressive for life.
POINTS TO REMEMBER
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic, multi system, and inflammatory autoimmune disorder that will bring on an attack to the joints.
Risk Factors: Family History, Gender, Age
Complications of Rheumatoid Arthritis:
- Lung disease
- Thinning of bones
- Heart problems
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
Tests for Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Blood Test – rheumatoid factor
Some Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Aqua Therapy
- Tai Chi
- Pharmacological Treatment
- Disease Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs or (DMARDS)
- Anti-inflammatory agents
– Are you familiar of the symptoms and risk factors of rheumatoid arthritis?
– Does knowing more about rheumatoid arthritis help you understand someone who are affected by it?
– Do you know other safe and effective treatments for rheumatoid arthritis?
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