General Information on Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease. It occurs when the body mistakenly attacks your body's own tissues, which causes pain and swelling in the joints, erosion of bones, and, eventually, joint deformity. Signs and symptoms of RA are not specific to bones and joints, however, but can also be seen in the rest of your body, including mental health issues.
Information on Rheumatoid Arthritis shows the disease affects approximately 1.3 million individuals in the United States. Of these, 300,000 are children afflicted with a specific kind of RA called Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. Women represent an astonishing 70% of RA patients, and disease onset appears to be most common between 30 and 50 years of age.
Signs & Symptoms: Bones & Joints
RA patients present with tender, swelling, and warmth in their joints, as well as stiffness that is generally worse in the morning or after strenuous activities. Available information on Rheumatoid Arthritis show that symptoms can vary in severity, as well as possibly come and go in flares.
As the disease progresses, RA can cause joint deformity, and even push joints out of place. This is due to the pressure from the present swelling. This may eventually hinder a person's mobility, even to the point of having to use a wheelchair.
Signs & Symptoms: Body-Wide
Although it is the bone and joint symptoms which most people recognize, the issues appearing in other parts of the body are what can make the disease so dangerous. Current information on Rheumatoid Arthritis shows that as much as 40% of all patients experience issues in other parts of their body. This includes the nerve tissue, bone marrow, skin, eyes, kidneys, lungs, salivary glands, and blood vessels.
Little bumps called nodules often appear over pressure points like the elbows, knees, knuckles, spine, and lower leg bones. These nodules may range from the size of a pea to that of a mothball, and commonly appear in individuals with RA.
Other common symptoms include fatigue, malaise, a low grade fever, weight loss, loss of appetite, visual disturbances, balance impairments, and a wide variety of other issues.
Signs & Symptoms: Mental Health
Dealing with a chronic, incurable illness can take it's toll on a person's mental and emotion wellbeing. Feelings of anger, sadness, hopelessness, and of being overwhelmed are common. Anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders are also prevalent.
The cause of RA is unknown, but certain common factors have been pinpointed. Women are much more likely to get Rheumatoid Arthritis than men, and it tends to be a hereditary – meaning it is a genetic trait passed down through families. Approximately 70-80% of patients have high levels of an antibody called the rheumatoid factor, while 66% have a genetic marker called HLA-DR4.
A diagnosis is made based on medical history, lab tests, imaging, and a thorough physical examination. During the exam, doctors will look for tenderness, swelling, or warmth in joints. Lab tests may include a rheumatoid factor, ESR, CBC, C-reactive Protein, and Anti-CCP. Information on rheumatoid arthritis shows X-rays and MRI's are also beneficial in diagnosis.
Treatment for RA will most likely be carried out by a rheumatologist, although it may be done through an immunologist, or general practitioner. While there is no cure, treatment is aimed at slowing and easing the symptoms of the disease. This includes exercise, medicine, and lifestyle changes.
There is no cure for RA, but patients who benefit from aggressive therapy and early detection often go on to live healthy, productive normal lives. New information on Rheumatoid Arthritis has led to better treatments, and there is hope the future will hold breakthroughs in curing and treating the disease.