Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that results in chronic inflammation of your joints, typically in the hands and feet. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect people of all ages, but it is seen more often in older women over age 40. Rheumatoid arthritis is currently incurable, and the aim of treatment is to diminish symptoms.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, which means that it occurs when your immune system targets parts of your own body by mistake. Symptoms are typically restricted to the hands and feet, though rheumatoid arthritis may affect other areas of the body as well. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disorder, which means that it may last for years. Symptoms may change daily, and symptoms may also come and go for long periods of time. Periods of increased inflammation are referred to as flares.

  • Tender, swollen, reddish joints
  • Joint stiffness in the morning
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Both sides of the body are equally affected

Rheumatoid Arthritis Causes

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means that it occurs when your immune system mistakes your own body as a threat. Rheumatoid arthritis starts when your immune system targets the synovium, a lining of soft tissue that surrounds your joints. The joint becomes inflamed, and results in the gradual erosion and destruction of the cartilage and bone within the joint. Surrounding tendons and ligaments are also affected, and may cause joint disfiguration. The cause of this remains unknown, though evidence points toward genetic factors that could make a person more vulnerable to infections that might lead to rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosis

Rheumatoid arthritis may be diagnosed by a physical test, blood tests, or X-rays. In a physical test, a doctor examines your joints for symptoms, such as swelling, redness, and warmth. Blood tests look for increases in your erythrocyte sedimentation rate, which will occur when a part of your body is inflamed. Also, blood tests may look for rheumatoid factor antibodies, a type of antibody that is found in the blood of most people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment

As there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, the aim of treatment is to reduce symptoms, usually by a mix of medication, which works by reducing inflammation, and physical and occupational therapy, which teach patients how to overcome their symptoms and lead normal lifestyles. Medications may have serious side effects. Also, a patient may require surgery if there joints are severely damaged.

Medications for Rheumatoid Arthritis

  • NSAIDs (non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can decrease inflammation and alleviate the pain caused by it.
  • Corticosteroids (prednisone) can decrease inflammation and delay damage caused to the joints.
  • DMARDs (disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs) work by delaying rheumatoid arthritis so that joints and tissues affected may be preserved.
  • Biologic DMARDs (disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs) work by targeting the areas of the immune system that are causing inflammation.

Therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis

  • Physical therapy teaches the patient a number of ways to ease pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis on a daily basis, such as by stretching, exercising, and using nonsymptomatic parts of the body.
  • Your doctor or therapist may suggest the use of assistive devices that take the stress of daily activities away from the areas affected by rheumatoid arthritis.

Surgical Treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis

  • If joints have become too severely damaged for medication or therapy to help, there are a few types of surgery that may be necessary to successfully continue using the joint. Joint replacement surgery is when a surgeon replaces the unusable parts of your joint with a prosthesis. If tendons surrounding the joint have weakened or become loose, a surgeon may be able to repair the damage.