In this article we will look at:
- What is rheumatoid arthritis?
- How does rheumatoid arthritis occur?
- Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
- Diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis
- Complications of rheumatoid arthritis
- Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis
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What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid Arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease. In this disease, the body’s immune system, which is responsible for keeping the body safe from any bacteria and viruses, malfunctions and begins to attack the healthy tissue in the body, especially the joints in the body such as the wrists, fingers, elbows, knees and ankles.
This disease usually affects more than one joint and affects both sides of the body simultaneously. It erodes the lining of the joints causing inflammation, swelling, pain and deformity.
How does rheumatoid arthritis occur?
The immune system cells travel along with the blood and reach the joints. Once they reach the joints, they begin to cause irritation, which causes inflammation, and subsequently begins to erode the cartilage between the joints. If the cartilage completely erodes the bones could rub against each other and gradually become deformed.
The exact cause for the sudden offence the immune system launches against the healthy tissues in its own body is not known. Some medical experts believe it can be a bacteria which makes the immune system malfunction, some others believe it could be due to excessive smoking and yet some others think this disease is due to genetic factors. Hormones too are believed to cause this disease.
What are the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis? How is rheumatoid arthritis diagnosed?
People suffering from rheumatoid arthritis usually complain of:
- painful, stiff and swollen joints
- stiffness of joints for more than an hour in the morning
- constant fatigue
- carpal tunnel syndrome
- injuries take time to heal
- inflammation of the forefoot
- experience of suddenly locked joints
- growth of lumps under the skin near the affected joints
In its early stages, rheumatoid arthritis may be difficult to diagnose. The early signs mimic those of many other diseases and disorders.
A rheumatologist will check your joints for any pain and swelling. He will also check your muscles strength and joint flexibility.
The most common medical tests that diagnose rheumatoid arthritis are:
- Imaging Tests: X-rays, MRIs, and ultrasounds can help to diagnose the severity level of the disease in your body.
- Blood Tests: Blood tests help to determine whether there is inflammation in the body.
What are the complications of rheumatoid arthritis?
Complications of rheumatoid arthritis include:
- Heart problems: People with rheumatoid arthritis are 50 % more likely to die from heart problems. They are twice more likely to have a heart attack or a stroke.
- Eye Problems: Rheumatoid arthritis increases the chances of eye problems such as dry eyes, pain, blurred vision or loss of vision, and eye inflammation.
- Osteoporosis: This condition is also known as 'bone loss' that may occur in people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. It is necessary for people with rheumatoid arthritis to get their bone density checked every two years.
- Blood Vessel Disease: This condition is uncommon among the patients, but when it does occur, it can affect the blood flow in the body and thus affect all the vital organs.
- Lung Problems: Inflammation occurs with rheumatoid arthritis, which can affect the lining of the lungs, leading to fluid collection.
- Nodule Formation: Firm lumps of tissue begin to grow under the joints in the body, such as fingers, and elbows. These nodules can grow anywhere including in the lungs.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome: If your wrists are affected by rheumatism, then the nerve which serves the fingers and the hand largely can get affected.
What is the treatment for rheumatoid arthritis?
Currently there is no treatment which can completely cure arthritis, however, the right medical interventions can greatly help to reduce your symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe medications to control the arthritis pain or to bring down the inflammation and swelling. Steroids are often prescribed to treat inflammatory arthritis. Steroids can be taken in tablet form, and can also be injected into the joints.
Based on the seriousness of your condition the doctor may also advise you to opt for joint surgery. If your joint(s) (hip, knee, shoulder, and elbows) have been damaged beyond repair, you will benefit greatly from the joint replacement surgery.
The doctor can also advise you to undergo different forms of therapy such as:
- Hydrotherapy: wherein you will be taught to exercise in a warm pool, which will relax your muscles and joints.
- Physiotherapy: which consists of following an exercise regimen tailored to suit your specific needs. It can also include pain alleviating treatments such as ice-packs, heat-packs, and massage.
- Occupational Therapy: which consists of enabling people to manage their daily activities efficiently by using specialized aids and tools.
Questions answered by trusted doctors
Did you know?
Affects 1% of Indian population
Rheumatoid Arthritis affects 1% of the India population. What stands out is the fact that it affects women more than men. This disease grows during pregnancy and may flare up after the pregnancy.
More common among older people
This disease usually begins at middle age and progresses with age. It is infact, very common among older people. At times though children and young adults can develop this disease.
Correlation with unhealthy habits
Obese people and smokers could be at a higher risk of developing this disease, and also men with low testosterone levels.
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