Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic condition that results in tender swollen joints, and may also affect certain internal organs. The exact etiology of this condition is not known; however, it is classified as an autoimmune disorder. Under normal circumstances, a properly functioning immune system will attack any invading substances, but in cases where an immune system is compromised, it actually attacks itself. It is believed that rheumatoid arthritis may result from a conglomeration of genes, the environment and certain hormones; however, this is speculative. It has also been suggested that rheumatoid arthritis occurs due to various infectious factors such as a certain virus, bacteria or fungus.
Rheumatoid arthritis most commonly strikes the 40-60-year-old age group; however, it has been known to hit any age group. Reports indicate that more women than men develop rheumatoid arthritis, although the reason for this imbalance is not clear. Rheumatoid arthritis equally affects the joints on both sides of the body. In the earlier stages of the disease, the smaller joints, such as the fingers, wrists, ankles and toes, are affected. As the disease progresses, the large joints, such as the shoulders, elbows, neck and jaw, are targeted. This type of arthritis is also known to affect the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, blood and nerves.
What are the Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Many, if not most, of the symptoms associated with this disease revolve around the various joints of the body. The list below is by no means exhaustive; therefore, if you experience a symptom not mentioned on this list, speak with your healthcare provider for an evaluation and conclusive diagnosis. The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include the following:
- Pain in the joints
- Stiffness upon rising out of bed
- Generalized fatigue
- Loss of appetite/weight loss
- Unexplained muscle aches
- Low-grade fever
- Deformities of the hands and feet
- Itching, burning and discharge from one or both eyes
- Numbness and/or tingling of the extremities
- Hard bumps underneath the skin of the arms
Rheumatoid arthritis differs in severity on a person to person basis. Some people have reported periods when their particular symptoms feel unmanageable, while others feel they have the disease under control. These periods of flare-up and remission can be taxing on a person with rheumatoid arthritis from a physical, emotional and mental stand-point.
Are There Risk Factors Associated With Rheumatoid Arthritis?
While there is no rhyme or reason as to who does or does not develop this disease, there are a few factors that may be considered as markers that put one at a higher risk of developing this type of arthritis. Just because you happen to fall into one of the below-mentioned categories does not mean that you have the disease, or ever will have it, it simply means you may be predisposed to it. The following is a list of risk factors:
Gender: There is no conclusive reason why this disease strikes more women than men.
Age: Most people who develop this disease are between the ages of 40-60. However, rheumatoid arthritis has been known to hit people who are younger than 40.
History: Having a family member with rheumatoid arthritis puts you at an increased risk of developing it. While the condition is not believed to be passed on, doctors have suggested a person may be predisposed to the condition.
Smoking: Smoking cigarettes also increases a person’s chances of developing the disease. There are already so many reasons to quit smoking. Add rheumatoid arthritis to the list.
How Can Rheumatoid Arthritis Be Treated?
There is no known cure for this disease at this point in time; however, encouraging strides are being made towards developing treatments that will alleviate symptoms more effectively, ultimately allowing the sufferer a chance to enjoy a better quality of life. The most commonly prescribed treatments for this disease include the following:
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDS): These drugs not only reduce inflammation, but they can also alleviate the pain associated with joint swelling.
Steroids: In addition to reducing inflammation, corticosteroids also aid in slowing down the damage done to the affected joint(s).
Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDS): These drugs not only have the ability to slow down the rate at which rheumatoid arthritis develops, but can also protect the joints from being permanently damaged. The downside to this drug is that the side effects can be very severe. Speak with your healthcare provider to see if this particular type of medication is right for you.
The physical affects of this disease can be debilitating. Be sure to discuss with your doctor which treatment would best address your symptoms. Additionally, the psychological aspect of the disease can be equally upsetting; therefore, it is wise to set up meetings with a counselor, or have some other support system to lean on when your body goes through periods of exacerbation.
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