Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys the body’s own tissues, hence the term autoimmune disease. The illness can not only cause harm to a joint but to multiple organs including the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, and blood vessels.
Rheumatoid arthritis, unlike osteoarthritis, affects the lining of the joint, attacking it and making it swell which eventually leads to bone degradation and joint deformity.
Inflammation caused due to arthritis can also cause damage to other parts of the body. Despite the fact that new types of drugs have greatly improved treatment choices, severe rheumatoid arthritis, despite the medical advancement can still cause disabilities.
What causes rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis, as we now know, is an autoimmune disease. In which the immune system, which is responsible for protecting the body from outside invasion, starts to attack the healthy tissues of the joints which not only leads to rheumatoid arthritis but problems related to the heart, lungs, eyes, skin, and nerves may also crop up due to it.
It is still unsure to medical professionals what is the exact trigger of rheumatoid arthritis, however, there is an undeniable aspect of genetics involved. While the genes do not cause rheumatoid arthritis, they can make one more susceptible to environmental conditions like viruses and bacteria that might trigger the disease.
What are the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis?
The most prominent symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include the following:
– Swollen, tender, warm joints
– Joint stiffness in the morning time and after a prolonged state of inactivity
– Fever, fatigue, and a loss of appetite
The early stages of rheumatoid arthritis cripple smaller joints which generally are the ones that join fingers to hands and toes to feet. As the disease continues to progress, these symptoms spread across the major joints in the body like wrists, ankles, knees, etc.
Rheumatoid arthritis also affects areas other than the joints, about 40% of the people who have rheumatoid arthritis observe discomfort in parts like
– Blood Vessels and Marrow
– Salivary Glands
The signs and symptoms caused by rheumatoid arthritis aggravate and relieve from time to time. Over time this disease causes the joints to get deformed
Risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis
Certain factors if present increases the chances of one getting affected by rheumatoid arthritis.
– Joint Injury In the past: Injury incurred to a joint while playing sports or due to an accident, makes the joint vulnerable to arthritis in the future.
– Obesity: Having excess body weight puts strain on the joints especially the knees and spine hence making them more prone to rheumatoid arthritis.
– Gender: Women are more prone to developing rheumatoid arthritis as compared to men.
– Age: Rheumatoid arthritis can affect people from all age groups but in general middle age people are more prone to develop it.
– Family History: There are some types of arthritis that run in families, in that case, if the parents and siblings have arthritis, the person is most likely to develop it in the near future.
– Smoking: Smoking cigarettes acts as a catalyst for people who already carry a defective gene that can lead to rheumatoid arthritis. Not only that smoking also aggravates the severity of the disease.
Methods of diagnosis
The primary mode of diagnosis involves a thorough investigation of the joint pain along with a report of the history of any such events in the family history. A physical examination will be performed in which the range of motion of the joints will be tested, along with the search for areas of swelling around the joints.
Further tests involve imaging tests which might include any of the following
– X-rays: X-rays can reveal cartilage loss, bone deterioration, and bone spurs by using low doses of radiation to see bone. The main use of X-rays is for measuring the progress of the disease.
– Tomography via computer (CT): CT scanners use a combination of X-rays from various angles to provide cross-sectional views of inside structures.
– MRI Scans: MRIs provide more accurate pictures of soft tissues such as cartilage, tendons, and ligaments by coupling radio waves with a powerful magnetic field.
– Ultrasound: High-frequency sound waves are used to image soft tissues, cartilage, and fluid-containing structures around joints with this method (bursae). Ultrasound can also be used to guide the positioning of needles for extracting joint fluid or injecting drugs into the joint.
A blood test can also help diagnose rheumatoid arthritis. Higher ESR rate or CRP levels indicates the presence of inflammatory processes in the body which is a strong indication of rheumatoid arthritis.
Methods of treatment
The main problem is there is no actual cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but there are methods of treatments that can help in managing the condition and intern the overall health. Early diagnosis and treatment if provided can even push the disease to remission.
Non-surgical methods of treatment include
– Medication: Anti-inflammatory and pain relief drugs can help relieve the symptoms of arthritis. Biologics are drugs that target the immune system’s inflammatory reaction, they are prescribed for people suffering from rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis
– Physical therapy: Physical therapy can help one increase their strength, range of motion, and overall mobility. Professional therapists can prescribe what modifications are to be done in the daily activities to minimize the discomfort caused due to arthritis.
Surgical methods of treatment involve
– Total replacement of joint: In this process, the damaged parts of the joints are replaced by plastic or metal parts.
– Joint fusion: This procedure is carried out when replacement is not possible. This method involves removing the ends of both the bones in direct contact and locking them together until they join as one.
– Synovectomy: This process involves removing the inflamed synovium from the joint to relieve the pain and also increase the flexibility of the joint.
Living with rheumatoid arthritis
The quality of life will directly depend on the mindset of the individual, having a strong support system and daily stress-relieving activity can significantly change the life of the patient. Here are some steps to help take out the best of the life
– Find Me Time: This is the best thing you can do for yourself. Often in our busy lives, we forget we need time for ourselves. Spending time out on a walk in nature or a cup of coffee can reduce stress considerably.
– Connect with people: Always make sure that your loved ones are aware of how you are feeling.