As we become older, our bodies may begin to experience some unpleasant symptoms that could indicate an underlying condition. Feelings of pain or stiffness in the fingers are often the signs of a chronic disease known as rheumatoid arthritis. This article reviews rheumatoid arthritis to help you understand thoroughly about the condition.
Learn About Rheumatoid Arthritis to Increase Your Chance of Remission
The day you or someone you care about is diagnosed with a chronic illness is a day that no one will ever expect to come. Anyone in such a situation will be worried and sometimes have feelings of depression. The most important thing to do is understand the disease thoroughly and effectively take action against it.
What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disorder characterized by the inflammation of the joints, causing a painful swelling that can eventually result in joint deformity and even bone erosion. Although the disease may occur at any age, it is most commonly reported among middle-aged people between 30 and 50. Severe rheumatoid arthritis can lead to physical disabilities if left untreated.
What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?
A healthy immune system plays a vital role in fighting against the cells that are recognized as foreign while protecting other healthy cells. It typically helps protect the body from infection and disease by removing infected or damaged cells. In rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system cannot recognize the infected cells that need to get rid of and mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the joints.
The reason why the immune system fails to function correctly and leads to an autoimmune disease is not fully understood. However, many researchers support the hypothesis that genetics can be a risk factor. While genes do not directly cause rheumatoid arthritis, they can make the body susceptible to environmental factors, such as infection or exposure to smoking, that may subsequently trigger the disease.
What Are the Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Patients with rheumatoid arthritis might experience a repeated alternation between periods in which symptoms worsen, known as flares, and periods in which the swelling and pain fade or disappear, known as remission. Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms may include:
- Painful, warm, swollen joints
- Joint stiffness and discomfort
- Joint deformity
- Mild fever
- Unexplained weight loss
Joint stiffness is commonly reported to exacerbate in the morning due to inactivity during night sleep. It may last anywhere between one to two hours or even the whole day, yet this symptom tends to improve after gentle movement of the joints. It is essential to know that stiffness over a long time in the morning is the most accurate indicator for rheumatoid arthritis, as this symptom is not common in other conditions.
At an early stage, rheumatoid arthritis can cause pain and stiffness to the smaller joints in the fingers or the toes. However, symptoms often spread to the shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, and ankles as the disease progresses. In many cases, symptoms become more severe and occur in the same joints on both sides of the body, meaning that pain and stiffness in one hand will also appear in the other hand.
How Is Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosed?
Since there is no single test to detect rheumatoid arthritis accurately, comprehensive diagnosis requires several different procedures, including:
- Reviewing symptoms
- Examining the joints and organs
- Conducting a physical examination
- Examining blood test results
- Doing X-rays or ultrasound imaging
Since the signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can often come and go, it is crucial to diagnose and detect the disease early within the first six months from the onset to enact prompt and efficient treatment.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment
The objective of rheumatoid arthritis treatment is to suppress or control inflammation in the joints, reducing the damaging effects that may exacerbate the condition. The disease can be effectively treated and managed with certain medications and self-management strategies.
Medications for rheumatoid arthritis, known as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), help slow down the progress of the disease and prevent joint deformity. Doctors often prescribe DMARDs, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and low-dose corticosteroids to alleviate swelling and pain. Methotrexate is the most widely prescribed DMARD since it is effective while being inexpensive and generally safe.
In many cases in which the patients have more severe symptoms, doctors will also prescribe medications called biologic response modifiers to reduce the activity of the immune system that leads to inflammation and joint damage. Individuals with possible rheumatoid arthritis are advised to seek medical attention and start medications as soon as possible to prevent long-term and irreversible damage.
For rheumatoid arthritis, the most efficient treatment requires more than just medicines. Therefore, besides medications, several low-cost and simple self-management strategies have also been proven to accelerate the recovery and increase the quality of life, including:
- Getting adequate gentle and low-impact exercises, such as walking or stretching
- Joining a specialized self-management education program
- Giving up smoking
- Maintaining a healthy weight
Although no single treatment can eliminate rheumatoid arthritis, an optimal approach to curing the disease is still under investigation. Current treatment options can at least stop or slow down the disease’s progression while allowing the patients to keep functioning at normal levels.
If you have questions about rheumatoid arthritis or any health problems discussed here, connect with us and learn more.
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