The term Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) comes from the Greek language for watery and inflamed joints. RA affects between 0.5 and 1% of adults in the USA.
Symptoms and Causes
Rheumatoid Arthritis is a autoimmune disorder that primarily affects joints. Autoimmune disorder means that the body’s immune system, which is there to protect the body, incorrectly attacks its own healthy cells. It affects the underlying bone and cartilage which usually results in inflammation of the joint that can be noticed by warmth, swelling and pain.
The most common areas for RA are the wrist and hands with typically the same joints involved on both sides of the body. The disease may also affect other parts of the body and may result in a lower number of red blood cells, inflammation around the lungs, heart and other parts of the body. Fever and fatigue are common and many experience worsened pain and stiffness after resting.
RA is thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors with smoking being the most important non genetic factor. RA is up to three times more common in smokers than non-smokers
The onset of the symptoms come on gradually over weeks to months and while the cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not clear, it is believed to involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Symptoms arise most frequent during middle age. Women are affected 2.5 times as frequently as men. Smoking is the most significant non genetic risk factor with RA being up to three times more common in smokers than non-smokers.
People with RA are more likely to have Vitamin D deficiency but it is still unclear if Vitamin D deficiency is a cause or consequence of the disease.
The diagnosis is mostly made based on the symptoms but there are also laboratory testing that can support a diagnosis or exclude other diseases with similar symptoms.
There is no cure for RA but certain treatments can help improve symptoms and slow the progress of the disease. Treatment has the best results when it is started early and aggressively.
There are “disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs” (DMARDs) that work to decrease pain and inflammation, reduce or prevent joint damage and to preserve the structure and function of the joints. Examples of DMARDs are hydroxychloroquine and methotrexate.
Another class of drugs are NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), they help to reduce inflammation of the joint. Examples of NSAIDs are Aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen.
RA should generally be treated with at least one specific anti-rheumatic medication.
Painkillers can also be used to help manage pain while not causing the same level of gastrointestinal irritation as NSAIDs or DMARDs. Surgery can help to repair damaged joints and to regain function.
It is still uncertain if specific diets have an effect on RA. Exercise is recommended to maintain muscle strength and joint function. Physical activity is also beneficial for persons with RA suffering from fatigue.
The goal of treatment is to minimize pain, decrease inflammation, and improve a person’s overall functioning. DMARDs, NSAIDs, pain killers and pain relief creams are frequently used.