Rheumatoid Arthritis: Treatment, Causes, and Symptoms

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory condition that affects many different joints. It is an autoimmune disease (auto means self), so-called because a person’s immune system, which normally helps protect the body from infection and disease, attacks joint tissues for unknown reasons.

Rheumatoid arthritis causes pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of function in the joints. Other parts of the body such as the blood, heart and lungs may also be affected. It also can cause inflammation of the tear glands and the salivary glands.

One of the distinctive features of rheumatoid arthritis is that it occurs in a symmetrical fashion meaning that if one hand or knee is affected usually the hand or knee on the opposite side will also have symptoms unlike osteoarthritis where often one knee is affected.

About 1% of the adult population in Ireland is affected by RA and up to three times as many women are affected as men. The disease often begins in middle age and occurs with increased frequency in older people, but children and young adults can also develop it. It is estimated that 1 in a 1000 children can be affected by a form of RA called juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

  • Tenderness, warmth, and swelling in the joint with a symmetrical pattern meaning that if one hand is affected the other one is also affected
  • Joint inflammation often affecting the wrist and finger joints closest to the hand but sometimes affecting other joints, including the neck, shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, ankles, and feet
  • Fatigue, occasional fevers, a general feeling of being unwell
  • Pain and stiffness lasting for more than 30 minutes in the morning or after a long rest
  • Symptoms that last for an extended period of time sometimes for years
  • Symptoms in other parts of the body

Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease whereby a person’s immune system starts to turn against itself. It attacks the healthy joint tissue and begins a chain of events resulting in inflammation and joint damage.

The precise cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not yet known although many factors such as genetics play a major role in determining if someone is going to develop RA.

It is clear that more than one gene is involved in determining whether a person develops rheumatoid arthritis and how severe the disease will become.

Many researchers believe that environmental factors such as a viral or bacterial infection may triggers the disease in people who are by their genetic make up susceptible to RA.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease with the severity and duration of the symptoms being unpredictable. For some people, it lasts only a few months or a year or two and goes away for others the disease may be mild or moderate with periods of increased disease activity, called flares, and periods in which they feel better, called remissions. For others with a severe form of the disease that is active most of the time, and lasting for many years or a lifetime, leading to serious joint damage and disability.

Recent advances in treatment options such as biologic therapies offer the chance to patients for more effective disease control, and early diagnosis and treatment will lead to reduced deformity and disability.

Informational Booklet on Rheumatoid Arthritis from Arthritis Research Campaign (ARC) – Click Here

 

This page was last modified:
Monday, October 16, 2017
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