Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic condition caused by your immune system to attack healthy cells in your body. Unfortunately, the issue is progressive and can even result in becoming crippled. Recognizing the signs early, however, may slow the advancement.
About Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis targets the joints and causes them to swell. You’ll experience pain at first, but as it worsens, it can limit your mobility. Basically, your immune system starts attacking healthy cells in your body, and it begins with your joints. Specifically, the condition affects the lining of the joints. It’ll cause the bones to erode, and as it does, it causes the bones to deform or move out of their proper location. As it continues, it’ll even start to affect other portions of your body including your heart, kidney, lungs, eyes, and skin.
Some symptoms of rheumatoid begin as tenderness and swelling in the joints. You might notice your joints feel warm. Additionally, you tend to have pain. Generally, it begins in your smaller joints like in your hands and toes, but it often spreads to your knees, wrists, elbows, hips, and shoulders. Your joints may feel stiff, especially in the mornings and after periods of inactivity. You might also experience chronic fatigue, fever, and a loss of appetite. Eventually, it could even cause problems with vision as well as heart issues and difficulty breathing.
Sometimes, your symptoms may come and go. They may even differ in the severity. During periods of inactivity, both swelling and pain may lessen or disappear completely. When you’re experiencing periods of time when the symptoms are worse, they’re known as flares.
Why You Get Rheumatoid Arthritis
Generally, you think of arthritis as a condition that arises because of age, but that isn’t true with this form. When you have rheumatoid arthritis, your immune system begins to attack the synovium, which is the lining in your joints. Eventually, your synovium thickens, and it destroys your cartilage and bones. As of now, physicians and experts aren’t sure what causes rheumatoid arthritis. However, it does appear that genetics are a factor. There isn’t a specific gene that triggers the disease, though. Your genetic makeup increases your sensitivity to bacterial and viral infections that can cause it.
Besides genetics, other risk factors increase your risk of rheumatoid arthritis. For instance, your gender plays a role since women are more prone to it than men. Your age does have a part too because people in their middle ages tend to develop it more than others. Exposure to asbestos and silica seem to elevate a person’s risk, but it’s not understood why. Smoking and obesity make it more likely that you’ll develop it as well.
Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis
In order to prevent complications and the disease from progressing, it’s important to seek out treatment. Early detection leads to the best prognosis. Treatment also helps to reduce your pain and swelling, so you may live a normal life. In some cases, your primary care physician (PCP) may refer you to a rheumatologist who can help you even more.
Often, the first course of action is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, more commonly known as an NSAID. This type of medication relieves your pain. Sometimes, you receive steroids like prednisone to reduce the inflammation and pain as well as slow the progression. Often, a physician will prescribe a disease-modifying antirheumatic drug like Trexall, Orencia, Humira, Enbrel, or Arava.
Sometimes, your physician will send you to a physician or occupational therapist. This person will teach you exercises that help the flexibility in your joints. You’ll learn new ways to perform your daily tasks in order to make them easier for you. Your therapist might also recommend devices that can assist you. For example, you can purchase kitchen knives that have a special grip to protect your hands.
Although a PCP or rheumatologist can’t perform surgery, they can provide you with a referral to a surgeon who can repair your joints. For instance, a surgeon may perform a synovectomy, which a procedure where the lining of your joint is removed completely. This surgery can be performed on your fingers, hips, wrists, knees, or elbows. You may need to undergo surgery to repair your tendons. You could need a joint fusion or a completely joint replacement. During a total joint replacement, you receive a prosthetic joint comprised of either surgical-grade plastic or metal.
Preventing Rheumatoid Arthritis
In most cases, you can’t prevent rheumatoid arthritis. You, however, should avoid smoking since it can heighten your risk. You want to make sure you maintain a healthy weight since obesity plays a role in the onset in some cases. In addition, if you notice pain in your joints, you should schedule an appointment to receive a diagnosis and slow the progression as soon as you can.