The autoimmune disease rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects joints in causing pain, inflammation, and decreased mobility. About 1% of the population suffers from this type of arthritis, with women being two or three times as likely to develop it. While there is neither a known cause nor a cure for this degenerative condition, early diagnosis and treatment can extend joint flexibility and reduce discomfort.
The reason rheumatoid arthritis classifies as a systemic, autoimmune disorder is that it occurs throughout the body when the antibodies begin to attack healthy tissue. This type of arthritis can affect muscles and organs, in addition to joints, as it progresses. Usually, onset of rheumatoid arthritis occurs between 40-60 years old, and first manifests in the wrists and hands. The medical community believes there is a genetic as well as environmental factor in its development. Cigarette smoking increases your risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis goes through worsening stages, but can also have cycles of flaring up and going into remission. At first, joints stiffen and redden when their delicate lining, the synovium, swells. Symptoms will vary from pain and discomfort in symmetrical parts of the body, to a low fever, loss of appetite, or fatigue. Next, the body reacts by trying to cushion the joint, thickening the synovium. Finally, antibodies assault the entire joint by breaking down bone, ligaments, tendons, synovium, and cartilage. This results in deformed or askew joints that bend with difficulty. The whole joint area will be inflamed, discolored, heavy, and painful.
Doctors can diagnose rheumatoid arthritis by taking a history of your joint paint and ruling out other types of arthritis. Treatment by a specialist, a rheumatologist, will be personalized to both reduce symptoms and postpone worsening joint health. Your tailored treatment might include mild exercise, anti-inflammatory medicine or cortisone shots to reduce swelling, analgesics to ease pain, or medication like prednisone to prevent further damage to joints. In some cases, your doctor might extract liquid from the joints with arthrocentesis. This relieves some pressure and gives the doctor something to chemically analyze. Overall, treatment of RA continues to improve with better medication and a broad understanding of this disease that affects the whole body.