Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder that affects the joints of the body. It is a chronic condition that can cause pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of function in the affected joints. RA is more common in women than in men and usually begins between ages 40 and 50. Although there is no cure for RA, treatments are available to help manage symptoms and reduce inflammation.
The cause of RA is not known but it appears to be related to genetic factors and environmental triggers such as infections or certain drugs. When someone has RA, their immune system mistakenly attacks their own joint tissues which leads to inflammation, pain, and damage. This damage can lead to deformity of the affected joints over time if left untreated.
The most common symptom of RA is joint pain which typically starts gradually in one or two joints before spreading to other areas. Other symptoms include fatigue, stiffness after periods of rest, fever, weight loss, dry eyes/mouth, and weakness. In some cases, people with RA may also experience rashes or nodules on their skin near the affected joints.
Diagnosis of RA often begins with a physical exam where the doctor will look for signs of swelling or tenderness in the joints. Blood tests may also be used to look for markers associated with RA such as rheumatoid factor or anti-CCP antibodies. Imaging tests such as X-rays or MRI scans may also be used to check for joint damage caused by RA.
The treatment goals for people with RA are to reduce pain and inflammation while preserving joint function and preventing further damage from occurring. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly used to reduce pain and inflammation while corticosteroids such as prednisone can help control more severe symptoms. Disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are also available which can slow down progression of the disease by suppressing the immune system?s attack on its own tissues. In some cases surgery may be needed if joint deformity becomes severe enough that it interferes with daily activities or causes significant pain/discomfort.
Living with RA can be challenging but there are many things that people can do to help manage their condition including getting regular exercise (as tolerated), maintaining a healthy diet, getting adequate rest/sleep each night, avoiding smoking/alcohol use, using assistive devices when necessary (e.g., cane), attending support groups/educational programs about living with RA etc.. Additionally talking with your healthcare provider about any changes in your condition or new treatments options available can help you stay informed about your condition so that you can make decisions that best suit your needs and lifestyle preferences