Rheumatoid arthritis

What is rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is a long-term autoimmune disease that causes pain and discomfort, swelling and joint stiffness. Hands, feet and wrists are typically affected by the condition, which normally presents itself in people that are middle-aged. However, young people and the elderly can also experience the onset of rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is more commonly diagnosed in women than men, smokers and those who have a family history of the condition.

Causes

The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is the immune system fighting the cells that line joints by mistake, sending antibodies to the joint linings where they attack the surrounding tissue, leaving a sufferer with painful, swollen and stiff joints. Those that are overweight or obese are more likely to suffer with this type of arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis can have a long term adverse effect, causing damage to the joints, cartilage and bones. Unfortunately, it can eventually lead to bone erosion and joint deformity. 

Symptoms

There are many symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis, including:

  • Joint stiffness that is commonly worse in the mornings and after periods of inactivity. This symptom is typically the most common
  • Tender, warm and swollen joints
  • Fatigue, fever and loss of appetite
  • Weight loss

The onset of rheumatoid arthritis usually affects smaller joints such as the joints attaching toes to feet and fingers to hands. As the disease progresses, it often spreads to the wrists, knees, ankles, elbows, hips and shoulders.

It is crucial that the disease is managed well, as it can lead to other complications including an increased risk of heart attack and a stroke, Carpal Tunnel syndrome and the inflammation of other areas such as the lungs and heart.

Treatments

Although rheumatoid arthritis has no cure, there are ways to manage the disease. As with most diseases or conditions, an early diagnosis is effective in combatting symptoms so that sufferers can enjoy months or even years between flare-ups.

Treatments for rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Long term medication to relieve symptoms and slow the progress of the disease
  • Physiotherapy and occupational therapy to assist with mobility and improve daily life
  • Lifestyle changes such as increasing exercise and quitting smoking
  • Surgery to correct joint problems

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