An Overview of Rheumatoid Arthritis

An Overview of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease that causes pain and stiffness in the joints.

The good news is that there are a number of treatments for this condition, including medications and surgery.

This blog post will provide an overview of what you need to know about rheumatoid arthritis.

Let’s get started!

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)?

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease that causes pain and stiffness in the joints.

The main feature of rheumatoid arthritis is inflammation within the joint lining (the synovium).

Inflammation can also affect other parts of the body, such as skin, eyes, lungs, blood vessels, and heart valves.

This chronic inflammatory disease is believed to be an autoimmune disorder.

Autoimmune disorders occur when the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy cells and tissues.

It is more prevalent in women than men.

RA can occur at any age, but it most commonly begins between the ages of 40 and 60 years old.

Symptoms

The main symptom of rheumatoid arthritis is inflammation within the joints, which can cause pain and stiffness.

At first, these symptoms may come and go or be mild in severity.

However, as time passes, RA tends to become chronic, with more severe symptoms that are constant throughout the day.

The common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are:

  • Joint pain
  • Swelling in the hands, feet, or other joints
  • Morning stiffness that lasts more than one hour after waking up
  • Redness and warmth around the affected joint 
  • Soreness and stiffness after rest or periods of inactivity
  • Fatigue (feeling tired all the time)
  • Rheumatoid nodules – painful bumps on the skin that usually appear in the morning hours
  • Numbness or tingling sensations in your hands and feet
  • Unexplained weight loss 
  • Low-grade fever (less than 100 degrees Fahrenheit) 

In some people, RA may affect the skin around the nails, which can cause them to become pitted or grooved.

It also causes changes in the color of your fingernails and toenails (yellowing).

Other symptoms that are less common include:

  • Pain in your shoulders, hips, or other joints
  • Heartburn and indigestion
  • Joint stiffness that lasts more than 24 hours after activity ceases 
  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)

Causes

The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown.

But, what we do know is that it may be triggered by genetic factors that are passed down through families.

Other possible causes include:

Treatment Options

There is currently no cure for rheumatoid arthritis.

However, there are a number of treatment options available that can help manage symptoms and reduce joint damage.  

Here is a list of the most common treatments for rheumatoid arthritis:

  • Medications – Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen can be used to treat RA symptoms.
  • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) such as methotrexate, sulfasalazine, and hydroxychloroquine can be used to reduce inflammation in the joints.
  • Biologic therapies – These include monoclonal antibodies, which block certain proteins that cause RA symptoms.
  • Surgery – Joint replacement surgery can help replace severely damaged joints due to RA.  
  • Physical therapy and sports – Exercises that target the specific muscles around your joint(s) can improve mobility and function of that area.  
  • Patient education – Learning about your condition and its treatment options is an essential part of the healing process.

The best treatment option for you will depend on your age, other diseases or conditions you may have, other medications you are taking, how severe your condition is, and what side effects a medication might cause.

Talk to your doctor to find the treatment option that is best for you.

Rheumatoid arthritis can be a difficult condition to manage because it typically comes and goes in flare-ups, which means symptoms may worsen before they get better.

However, with patience and time, most people are able to learn how to control their symptoms, so they do not interfere with everyday life.

It is also important to try and maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating nutritious foods, staying active, getting enough sleep, limiting stress wherever possible.

This will help you get the most out of your treatment plan while improving your overall quality of life.  

Risks and Complications 

If left untreated, rheumatoid arthritis can cause severe joint damage that may lead to disability or deformity.

It also increases your risk of developing additional health conditions such as heart disease and high blood pressure.  

Some complications associated with RA include: 

  • Long-term (chronic) pain in the joints – this is usually caused by cartilage breakdown in the joints
  • Osteoporosis – weak bones that are more likely to fracture or break, which can cause pain and deformity.
  • Rheumatoid vasculitis – an inflammatory disease of blood vessels that causes redness, warmth, swelling (inflammation), and may lead to tissue death if left untreated
  • Autoimmune hepatitis – an autoimmune disease that causes your body to attack the liver, which may lead to serious complications if not treated properly
  • Ankylosing spondylitis – chronic inflammatory arthritis of the spine and sacroiliac joints in the pelvis that can cause permanent spinal deformity if left untreated

Prevention Tips

Here are some tips that can help reduce your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis:

Avoid certain chemicals in the environment – avoid exposure to herbicides, pesticides, and insecticides.

Get vaccinated regularly – this includes getting the flu shot every year while undergoing other recommended vaccines for your age group.

Maintain a healthy weight – losing weight can help reduce inflammation and pain in the joints.

Stop smoking – smoking can lead to chronic inflammation in the body. Evidence suggests that smoking can reduce inflammation in the body and lead to fewer RA flare-ups.

Physical activity – staying active can help you maintain muscle strength and joint mobility.

Sun protection – avoid activities that expose your skin to direct sunlight, which can increase inflammation in the body.

Stress management – stress has been linked with an increased risk of developing RA symptoms, so it is important to keep stress levels low as much as possible. 

Tips for Living With Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

Self-care for RA involves learning to manage your symptoms, which can include pain and fatigue.

1. Take your medications 

Take your medications as prescribed by your doctor for the best results in managing RA symptoms. 

For example, If you’ve been prescribed methotrexate, don’t stop taking it even if your symptoms improve.

Methotrexate is a disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD) that helps to reduce the severity and frequency of RA flare-ups.

Always talk to your doctor before making any changes to your medication routine.

2. Exercise

Exercise and regular physical activity can help you reduce pain and inflammation as well as increase your energy levels.

You may be wondering, “Does exercise cause arthritis flare-ups?”

The answer is no—however, people with RA should always check with their doctor before starting a new fitness routine to make sure it’s safe for them.  

To stay active without causing too much damage to the joints, choose low-impact activities such as walking, swimming, and cycling.

Also, always remember to stay hydrated after activity by drinking plenty of water before your workout and immediately afterward.

3. Make sure to get enough rest

it is important to take time off from physical activity and other daily activities when you’re experiencing RA symptoms like pain, fatigue, or swollen joints.

Try relaxation exercises such as yoga or meditation if stress management becomes difficult for you.  

4. Eat a healthy diet

A diet that consists of lean proteins (like chicken), whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats (like olive oil), and low-fat dairy products.

It is also important to avoid foods that cause inflammation such as refined carbohydrates like white bread and pasta.

Takeaway

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes pain and inflammation in the joints.

RA can also affect other parts of the body, including organs.

There are many ways to reduce your risk of developing RA and live a healthy life despite having it.

These include getting vaccinated, maintaining a healthy weight, stopping smoking, exercising regularly with low-impact activities, staying active without overdoing it by resting often enough, learning to manage stress, and maintaining a healthy diet.

It is important to always talk to your doctor before starting any new medications or fitness routines when you have RA.

So I hope this information was useful for you!

Resources To Learn More About The Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

  1. National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS) – What is RA?
  2. American College of Rheumatology – Rheumatoid Arthritis
  3. National Institute of Health – Rheumatoid arthritis: Overview
  4. NHS – Rheumatoid arthritis
  5. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence – Rheumatoid arthritis in adults: management
  6. Healthline – Everything You Want to Know About Rheumatoid Arthritis
  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

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