Health Concern

Understanding Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is often referred to as a joint disease.  In reality, it is a far more debilitating disease involving the immune system.  RA causes your own immune system to attack your joints, causing chronic pain and irreversible joint deterioration.

Epimeliology

RA affects about 1% of adults during their most productive years, and women are three times more prone to it than men.  The presence of estrogen receptors on certain cells indicates a hormonal relationship.  RA also appears to be genetically linked.  There is a higher incidence in monozygotic twins than in dizygotic twins.  No one knows why the immune system attacks healthy joints cells in RA or what trigger the disease.  However, it may be related to aging, as it occurs more often in older people.  It could also be related to a number of environmental factors like smoking.

What Happens?

Joint damage is caused by inflammation, a process that your immune system uses to fight infections and heal injuries.  Under normal circumstances, once your body clears out an infection, the inflammation stops.

However, with RA, your body’s immune system mistakes some organs as foreign bodies and attacks them.  This results in damage to joints and organs.

There are some pertinent things to know about RA.  While pain and inflammation can be congroled with pain relievers, medications do not affect the disease process that damages joints and bones.

Unlike many injuries that heal over time, the deterioration of joints, bones and cartilage by RA is progressive.  As bleak as this situation sounds, you can work with your physician to make sure you get an early diagnosis.  Early treatment can help slow or stop the progression of RA.

If RA is left untreated, damage increases.  It begins in the lining of the joints, spreads to cartilage and finally erodes the bone.

Do you have these RA symtoms?

Check any symptoms that you are experiencing.

  • Joint pain with warmth and swelling, especially in the small joints of hands, wrists and feet. 
  • Pain in more than one joint at the same time.
  • Fatique.
  • Morning stifness that lastas an hour or more.
  • Limited movement or function of joints.
  • Painless lumps under the skin around your elbows and hands.
  • Low-grade fever.
  • Weakness.

This checklist is not a formal diagnostic tool, but rather to help identify symtoms.

There is a whold range of treatments for RA.  Talk with your doctor to find one that works for you.  Your doctor can also give you information about the benefits and side-effects associated with all the opstions.

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