Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease. Signs and symptoms are joint stiffness, swelling, and pain. RA affects organs in the body as well. It occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues. In this, it differs from osteoarthritis, which involves wear and tear on the joints. There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but there are treatments to help manage it.
Common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are joint pain, aches, stiffness, swelling and tenderness in more than one joint. These symptoms tend to occur on both sides of the body, such as in both hands or both feet. Other RA symptoms are fever, weight loss, weakness, and fatigue.
- Age. The chances of developing RA increase with age.
- Sex. RA is two or three times more likely for women than men.
- Genetics. People born with certain genes, HLA class II genotypes, may be more susceptible.
- Weight. Obesity amplifies risk.
- Smoking. Besides increasing a person’s odds of getting RA, this might also make the symptoms worse
Rheumatoid arthritis affects many parts of the body besides the joints. Other issues may include:
- Rheumatoid nodules
- Dry eyes and mouth
- Abnormal body composition
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Heart and blood vessels
- Lung disease
Early diagnosis is important because treatment can help reduce RA’s damaging effects. Rheumatologists, who specialize in musculoskeletal disease and systemic autoimmune conditions, are well equipped to make a diagnosis. A typical diagnosis requires a symptom review and physical exam, as well as some testing.
- Blood tests. To look for certain antibodies and other substances that indicate RA and inflammation.
- Imaging tests. To assess the damage in a joint and/or track changes.
There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but methods for treating the disease include:
Daily movement and exercise improve range of motion and flexibility. Eating a health diet, along with omega-3/fish oil supplements, may help. Patients are also urged to balance physical activities with rest, and to apply hot and cold treatments.
- Conventional DMARDs. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs suppress the immune system to slow the progression of RA.
- Biologic agents. This type of DMARD is engineered to target a specific pathway in the immune system to reduce inflammation.
- Synthetic DMARDs. This type of conventional, synthetic DMARD targets specific molecular structures.
An occupational therapist or physical therapist can help strengthen muscles, increase flexibility, and offer tips for performing daily tasks.
- Synovectomy. Removal of inflamed joint linings.
- Tendon repair.
- Joint fusion. Connecting two or more bones to increase stability and reduce pain.
- Total joint replacement
Catch Rheumatoid Arthritis Early
Our rheumatologists understand how RA can affect your daily life, and we’re here to help ease your symptoms and provide relief so you can get back to doing the things you love. To schedule an appointment with our rheumatology team, contact us today.
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