What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a type of chronic inflammatory arthritis that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the tissues of the joints. RA is an autoimmune disease that typically affects the small joints of the hands and feet, but it can also affect other body parts, including the knees, hips, and shoulders.
RA is a progressive disease, which means it can get worse over time. Left untreated, RA can lead to joint damage and disability. However, with early diagnosis and treatment, many people with RA are able to manage their symptoms and live active and productive lives.
What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?
The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown, but it is believed to involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors. RA is a symmetrical disorder, meaning that if one joint is affected, usually the same joint on the other side of the body is affected too.
Some people with RA may have a genetic predisposition to the condition, which means they are more likely to develop RA due to certain inherited traits. However, not everyone with a family history of RA will develop the condition.
It is also thought that certain environmental factors, such as infections or exposure to certain toxins, may trigger RA in people genetically predisposed to the condition.
Signs and Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
The most common symptom of rheumatoid arthritis is joint pain and stiffness. Other common symptoms include:
- Weight loss
- Joint pain
- Joint swelling and redness
- Morning stiffness that lasts for at least one hour before improving with activity
- Soft tissue swelling around the joints
- Deformities in the joints over time
If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to see your doctor so that they can diagnose and treat the condition.
Treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis
There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but there are treatments available that can help to manage the symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.
The most common treatment for RA is medication. There are several different types of medications that can be used to treat RA, including:
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs): These medications can help to slow the progression of RA by suppressing the immune system. Common DMARDs include methotrexate, hydroxychloroquine, and sulfasalazine.
- Biologic agents: These are newer medications that work by targeting specific parts of the immune system. Common biologic agents include adalimumab, etanercept, and infliximab.
- Corticosteroids: These are anti-inflammatory drugs that can be used to relieve pain and swelling. Common corticosteroids include prednisone and methylprednisolone.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): These are drugs used to relieve pain and reduce inflammation; they can be taken orally or applied topically.
- Surgery: In some cases where other treatments haven’t worked or if there’s significant joint damage, surgery may be recommended; common surgeries for people with RA include joint replacement or tendon repair.
In addition to medication, there are some other treatments that can help to manage RA symptoms, such as:
- Physical therapy: Physical therapy can help to improve joint function and range of motion.
- Exercise: Exercise can help to improve joint flexibility and strength.
- Heat and cold therapy: Heat and cold therapy can help to relieve pain and stiffness.
- Assistive devices: Devices such as canes or splints can help relieve joint stress.
If you have rheumatoid arthritis, it is important to work with your doctor to create a treatment plan that is right for you. With early diagnosis and treatment, many people with RA are able to manage their symptoms and live active and productive lives.
Get Help for Rheumatoid Arthritis
While there is currently no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, early diagnosis and aggressive treatment is critical to prevent long-term joint damage and disability. If you think you might have rheumatoid arthritis, it’s important to see a doctor so they can diagnose the condition early on and start you on the appropriate treatment plan.
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