Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder where your immune system attacks your body’s tissues by mistake. The chronic inflammatory disorder affects the lining of joints that results in painful swelling and can eventually cause bone erosion and joint deformity.
The immune system in someone with rheumatoid arthritis attacks the synovium which lines membranes surrounding joints. The resulting inflammation causes a thickening of the synovium and then destroys cartilage and bone within the joint.
Some symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are tender, swollen joints, joint stiffness (usually worse in mornings and after periods of inactivity), fatigue, fever and weight loss. Usually rheumatoid arthritis will affect smaller joints first like those in fingers, hands, toes and feet. Symptoms will progress further and usually occur in the same joints on both sides of the body.
Rheumatoid arthritis can also affect skin, eyes, lungs, heart, kidneys, nerve tissue, bone marrow and blood vessels. Symptoms may come and go but flares will occur alternately with periods of remission.
Causes are unknown though most likely there is a genetic component. Some risk factors include sex, age, family history, smoking, environmental exposure to asbestos or silica, and obesity. Women are more likely to be affected by the disorder, and it is more prevalent in people aged 40-60, smokers, and people who are overweight.
Some general goals in treating rheumatoid arthritis are to stop inflammation, relieve symptoms, prevent joint and organ damage, improve well-being, reduce long-term complications. It’s important to stop inflammation as soon as possible—the earlier you catch it, the better. The goal is to achieve remission, where minimal or no signs of symptoms of inflammation are present. Getting disease activity to a low level can slow joint damage. Sometimes medications are used in treating rheumatoid arthritis.
Regular low-impact exercise is easy on the joints but improves overall health and increases muscle strength.
People with rheumatoid arthritis should consult with a rheumatologist—someone who treats arthritis and autoimmune disease. A rheumatologist will help you to get the correct diagnosis for your condition without putting you through unnecessary tests. They will also help you to develop a treatment plan tailored to you. The outlook is greatly improved for people with rheumatoid arthritis and much of the progress made is because of rheumatologists and their knowledge of which treatments obtain the best results.
Drugs may be used to ease symptoms but some are used to slow the disease and to keep structural damage from occurring. Drugs that ease symptoms include non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which are available over-the-counter or by prescription. This group includes ibuprofen and ketoprofen. Drugs that slow disease activity include corticosteroid medications (prednisone), DMARDs (disease-modifying anti rheumatic drugs), Biologics, and JAK inhibitors.
Some people will experience permanent damage that affects their day to day life and wellbeing. For these people, surgery can be a great option. Joint replacement surgery can restore function in joints that have been damaged by RA. Most common are hip and knee replacements.