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Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic condition characterised by an inflammation of the joints, especially those of the hands and feet. It is an autoimmune disease, which means that it is caused by the body’s immune system. In this condition, the immune system attacks the tissues of the body, focusing on the joint linings. This then leads to swelling, warmth and pain around the joints.
Symptoms like joint warmth, pain, limited range of motion, and even swelling are common among most of the types of arthritis. The types of arthritis include osteoarthritis, psoriatic arthritis, gout, and over 97 others. However, the differences between these arthritis types are numerous.
First of all, they are all caused by different things. While osteoarthritis is caused by wearing and tearing of the cartilage in between the joints, rheumatoid arthritis is caused by an autoimmune response. Another type of arthritis, gout, is caused by uric acid crystals accumulating in the joint space.
Another significant difference is that while rheumatoid arthritis is often localised to the small joints, osteoarthritis can, and does affect all joints of the body, including those of the back. Gout, on the other hand, is very peculiar to the big toe of the foot.
Another hallmark of rheumatoid arthritis, which is not necessarily present in other arthritis types is that rheumatoid arthritis is characterised by pain immediately after resting.
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The synovium (the lining) of the joints is attacked, which leads to inflammation and all the other symptoms mentioned below. This persistent inflammation also leads to the progressive breaking down of the entire joint affected. Eventually, the pain spreads to the other parts of the joint like the bone and ligaments. At this stage, the condition has become debilitating, and the individual finds it very difficult to move it without feeling great discomfort.
Even though it is primarily seen in the joints of the hands and feet, rheumatoid arthritis is also known to affect other parts of the body. More common of these are bigger joints like the knees and elbows. Here are some other joints that the disease has been known to affect
Rheumatoid arthritis has also been known to affect other parts of the body besides the joints. It has been known to inflame the lining in the lungs, heart. It can also indirectly affect the liver and kidneys through the drugs that are used to treat it (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Cyclosporine).
The features listed above are some of the distinguishing features of rheumatoid arthritis−they make it easily identifiable among all the other causes of arthritis. That been said, rheumatoid arthritis is known to manifest in different ways, and these often differ from person to person. Additionally, the duration of the symptoms differ. Some individuals can feel them for months at a time while others can go long periods without any bouts of pain or discomfort.
Rheumatoid arthritis manifests in some of these ways:
There are also symptoms that are not exclusive to rheumatoid arthritis but are experienced by individuals who suffer from the condition. They include:
These symptoms are worse in people who have low activity levels. Generally, the more active an individual, the less the symptoms of the disease will be.
Rheumatoid arthritis is reported to have a prevalence of about 3 in 10,000. Additionally, it is more common in women than in men. While women are predisposed to the condition, women who have never been pregnant are even more so. Additionally, women who have just given birth also have higher chances of getting the condition than other women.
Genetic factors have also been linked to the occurrence of the condition. Because it is caused by the body attacking itself, the genes that carry the information of this abnormality can be passed down from parent to child. Additionally, if someone in your family has rheumatoid arthritis or has had I sometime in the past, there are odds that you may develop it too.
Other risk factors of rheumatoid arthritis include:
Rheumatoid arthritis, like the other forms of arthritis, is diagnosed by physical examination, history taking, and several other diagnostic tests like x-rays and MRIs. Diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis is particularly challenging because its symptoms overlap with other arthritis types, and it can be difficult to distinguish, particularly in the early stages. Additionally, because its cause is autoimmune, it may not be immediately apparent.
The physical tests function to identify the joint members responsible for the pain. However, they cannot differentiate between the various forms.
Blood tests can also be used to diagnose the condition, or at least rule out other types of arthritis. Individuals who have rheumatoid arthritis often have elevated levels of cyclic citrullinated peptide antibody in their blood. Additionally, elevated levels of uric acid will identify the cause of the symptoms as gout, instead of rheumatoid arthritis.
Imaging scans like x-rays and MRIs can help identify the extent of the damage and see the severity of action that needs to be taken.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive degenerative condition, and so the focus of treatment is usually on stopping the progression of the disease and trying to get the individual to function normally in their activities of daily living. Additionally, because it is an autoimmune disease, it is particularly problematic to treat.
One of the treatment options is medication. NSAIDs can be used to control the inflammation while reducing the pain. However, as mentioned above, some of these drugs, like Cyclosporine, can cause undesired effects like liver and kidney damage with prolonged use. Steroidal injections may also be prescribed for individuals who have rheumatoid arthritis. The steroids would be injected directly into the joint space to reduce the pain and swelling.
Physical therapy is also a very important part of managing rheumatoid arthritis as it helps keep the individual active and mobile. And as we mentioned earlier, the more active an individual is, the less severe their symptoms are likely to be. Physiotherapy can also be beneficial as a weight loss catalyst. Obese people are not only more predisposed to rheumatoid arthritis, but they also feel more discomfort. A weight loss program can also help people suffering from the condition.
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