Jun 19, 2007 by Peter Jameson
Rheumatoid Arthritis - The Basics
Rheumatoid arthritis is a form of chronic arthritis that typically occurs in joints on both sides of the body, such as in the hands, wrists or knees and it is this symmetry that helps distinguish rheumatoid arthritis from other types of arthritis.
In addition to affecting the joints, rheumatoid arthritis can sometimes affect the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, blood or nerves.
What Are the Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis affects everyone differently but is usually accompanied by pain in the joints, swelling, stiffness and tiredness.
The symptoms by and large develop gradually over several years but in some people rheumatoid arthritis may progress rapidly whereas others may have rheumatoid arthritis for a limited period of time and then enter a period of remission.
Who Most Often Contracts it?
Rheumatoid arthritis affects around 1% of the U.S. population and it is two to three times more common in women than in men although men tend to be more severely affected when they do get it. It typically occurs in middle age although both young children and the elderly can develop rheumatoid arthritis.
What Causes It
The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown but it is thought to be due to a combination of genetic, environmental and hormonal factors.
How Does Rheumatoid Arthritis Affect the Body?
Rheumatoid Arthritis seems to most regularly occur after the immune system has been triggered after which the immune cells migrate from the blood into the joints and joint-lining tissue after which the immune cells produce inflammatory substances. The increased number of cells and inflammatory substances within the joint in turn cause irritation, a wearing down of cartilage and swelling and inflammation of the joint lining causing excessive joint fluid within the joint.
As the cartilage wears down the space between the bones narrows and if the condition continues to worsen the bones might then rub against each other. Then as the joint lining expands it may also invade into or erode the adjacent bone resulting in irreversible bone damage.
How Is Rheumatoid Arthritis Treated?
Treatments include medications, rest and exercise and in rarer cases surgery to correct damage to a joint.
The type of treatment will depend on several factors including the person's age, overall health, medical history and severity of the arthritis.
There are many medications available which will decrease joint pain, swelling and inflammation and some will also prevent or minimize the progression of the disease.
If and when joint inflammation is decreased, guided exercise programs are then necessary to help regain flexibility of the joints and to strengthen the muscles that surround the joints and range-of-motion exercises should also be done regularly to maintain joint mobility.
When Is Surgery Called For?
If joint damage from the arthritis becomes so severe or if the pain can no longer be controlled with medications then surgery may become an option to help restore function to a damaged joint.
Is there a cure?
There isn't presently a cure for rheumatoid arthritis but early, aggressive treatment has been shown to help in preventing a worsening of the malady and can also greatly help in the reduction of the inherent pain.