Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful, chronic inflammatory autoimmune disorder that affects primarily the small joints within the body. The body’s immune system attacks the body’s own healthy tissues by mistake, causing painful swelling and possible permanent damage to joints.
Who Develops Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis can affect anyone, but there are certain factors which may raise a person’s risk of developing it. These factors include sex, age and family history. Rheumatoid arthritis is much more common in women, and even more common in those over 40. It is also much more likely that a person will develop rheumatoid arthritis if someone in their immediate family also suffers from the disease.
In the early stages of the disease it can be difficult to diagnose because it presents many physical symptoms that overlap with other health conditions. That is why patients are encouraged to keep a diary of their physical symptoms so that they can present them when meeting with the doctor. This helps to give a better insight as to what the patient is dealing with on a daily basis.
Blood tests may help to give the doctor a diagnosis as those who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis have elevated levels of erythrocyte sedimentation rate or anti-cyclic citrullinate d peptide antibodies. These may show that there is inflammation taking place within the body.
The doctor will also do a physical examination of the joints and ligaments, feeling them for warmth and looking for inflammation. Once a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis has been made the doctor will continue to check on the progression of the disease using X-rays and physical inspections.
Unfortunately there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but there are many treatment options that can help to alleviate symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease.
Medications are often the first line of action when it comes to treating the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Pain and inflammation are often the most common symptoms which are often treated with Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) can help to limit permanent damage to the joints and surrounding tissue. Steroids including prednisone slow down the debilitating effects of the disease including joint deformation, damage, pain and inflammation.
Physiotherapy is also a very common type of treatment. It can help people to maintain flexibility and movement within the joints. A physiotherapist will also help to develop a program including exercises and stretches for the patient and their personal mobility needs.
Surgery is often a last resort when it comes to treating rheumatoid arthritis. Surgery is used to help restore movement and physical ability to severely damaged joints and tendons.
Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis
There are many effective treatments that a person can do at home to help alleviate the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Soaking in a warm bath with Epsom salts can help to reduce inflammation and pain. Applying a cold or hot compress directly to the affected joints can also help to reduce pain.
Exercising regularly can also help to reduce the stiffness felt around the joints while strengthening the muscles. Low stress activity includes walking, aqua sports and stretching can all be very beneficial.
- Swollen joints
- Tender joints
- Deformed joints, primarily of the fingers and toes
- Flare ups (periods where symptoms are worse)
People who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis are also at an increased risk of developing other health conditions. These conditions include heart problems, lung disease, carpal tunnel syndrome and osteoporosis. People who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis may also become isolated and depressed as they are no longer physically able to do many things that use to be easy for them.