Sunday, 7 April 2013

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a debilitating disease that damages the body’s connective tissues, especially the synovial joints. Commonly referred to as RA, rheumatoid arthritis is a leading cause of disability in the United States. According to the Arthritis Foundation, RA affects about 1.3 million Americans, which is approximately 1% of the population.
RA is one of many autoimmune diseases that are caused by the immune system attacking the body’s own tissues. RA affects women three times more often than men, and commonly develops between the ages of 25 and 55. To understand this common condition, you must understand the symptoms, causes and treatments for rheumatoid arthritis.


The cause of RA remains unknown, but the most common theory is that the immune system suddenly malfunctions, turning on itself and attacking the body’s own tissues. Rheumatoid arthritis also tends to run in families, meaning your risk for developing RA increases if a close relative has the disease or another autoimmune condition. In fact, some researchers believe that genes associated with the immune system may trigger RA.
Environmental factors may also play a role in the development of rheumatoid arthritis. One other popular theory is that there is a connection between infectious microorganisms, such as bacteria and viruses, and the development of RA. Because 70% of people with RA are women, scientists are also concerned that female hormones may contribute to the development of autoimmune diseases like RA.


Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common form of inflammatory arthritis diagnosed today. The disease commonly affects the small joints on both sides of the body, including the wrists, fingers, elbows, shoulders and feet. Your joints may ache and feel warm to touch due to chronic inflammation. The disease also causes fatigue that cannot be relieved by rest, which is often the first sign of rheumatoid arthritis.
Because inflammation is systemic, you may also have a fever, loss of appetite and blood disorders. In addition, the chronic inflammation caused by RA is often damaging to the joints and connective tissues, resulting in joint deformities, decreased range of motion and disability. Some people with RA also have nodules on the joints that develop as a result of chronic inflammation. In some severe cases, rheumatoid arthritis may attack the heart, lungs and kidneys.


At one time, physicians used a “wait and see” approach to treat rheumatoid arthritis, but we now know that treating the disease early on is essential for preventing joint damage and disability. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications are commonly used as a first-line treatment for RA and help reduce pain, swelling and inflammation. Because the immune system is involved in the symptoms of RA, medications that suppress the immune system are very effective at slowing down the disease and reducing chronic inflammation.
Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, commonly called DMARDS, help slow the progression of RA and prevent further damage from occurring. A chemotherapy medication called methotrexate is also an effective long-term treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. Newer, more sophisticated drugs called TNF-alpha inhibitors target immune-specific cells that directly contribute to inflammation and other RA symptoms. However, all of these medications can cause side effects, and should be monitored by a doctor.


The most common complication of rheumatoid arthritis is damage to the joints and surrounding tissues. Luckily, with treatment, this damage can be controlled in most cases. RA also increases your risk for heart attack and stroke due to hardening of the arteries. Rheumatoid arthritis can also cause inflammation of the sac that encloses your heart. In addition, people with RA sometimes experience shortness of breath due to inflammation and scarring of lung tissue. Because RA causes swelling and inflammation in the joints, the nerves and surrounding tissues can also be affected. However, complications can be minimized with early diagnosis and treatment. If you suspect that you or a loved one has RA, talk to your doctor or make an appointment with a physician who specializes in joint disorders.


  • Arthritis Foundation: Rheumatoid Arthritis -

Key wordsRheumatoid arthritis, synovial joints, Arthritis Foundation, autoimmune diseases, autoimmune condition, infectious microorganisms,bacteria and viruses, female hormones, 
chronic inflammation, fever, loss of appetite, blood disorders, joints and connective tissues, Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, methotrexate, TNF-alpha inhibitors

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