Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic, systemic, autoimmune disease that damages the joints of the body and can also affect the tissues and organs of the body.
The immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue and causes inflammation and thickening of the joint lining tissue.
Many factors like genetics, hormones, infection and environmental factors like tobacco smoking, silica exposure, and gum disease are involved in the abnormal activity of the immune system.
It affects people of all ages, races, and social groups. Women have higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis than men.
Signs and symptoms
Rheumatoid arthritis most commonly affects joints like that of the hands, wrist, feet, ankles, knees and elbows and the inflammation can damage the bone and cartilage of the joint. The joints become swollen, tender, warm and stiff. It becomes difficult for the patients to carry out normal activities.
Besides the joints, it can affect other organs and systems of the body –
• Nodules can appear on or near the joint under the skin.
• Heart and blood vessels are affected due to inflammation of the tissues.
• It can also lead to muscular atrophy, osteoporosis, anaemia and carpal tunnel syndrome.
• It can cause inflammation or stiffness of the tissues lining the lungs and fluid retention in the lungs. Patients become more susceptible to lung infections.
• Chronic inflammation can lead to a condition called amyloidosis, in which there is protein deposition and damage to the kidney.
• Patients can suffer from Sjögren`s syndrome which is caused by the inflammation of the tear glands. There is dryness of eyes with burning sensation, itching, and discharge.
Rheumatoid arthritis can be controlled in most people and requires lifelong treatment. Early, aggressive treatment can stop or delay joint destruction and other complications.
Patients are given Disease Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs (DMARDs) after they are diagnosed with RA in addition to other anti-inflammatory drugs. Biologic drugs may be given when other medicines for rheumatoid arthritis do not work.
Regular physical therapy can aid in maintaining joint mobility and help keep the muscles strong.
There are other therapies to improve movement and reduce pain like weight loss program, occupational therapy, podiatry, immunoadsorption therapy, joint injections and orthoses.
A healthy balanced diet is important to keep the body from general degeneration and alleviate the symptoms. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables accompanied by meat, fish and dairy products.
Surgery is required to remove the inflamed joint lining. In severe cases, joint replacement is needed to correct damaged joints.