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Rheumatoid Arthritis

- 12 November 2008, 07:11

Rheumatoid arthritis is one of many autoimmune diseases in which a person’s own immune system mistakenly begins to attack itself, causing illness and damage. A person’s immune system is designed to protect the body from infections and diseases—but in the case of an autoimmune disease such as RA, the system turns on itself and the antibodies in the blood target body tissues which causes inflammation.  RA causes inflammation of the joints, as well as inflammation and pain around the joints themselves. RA is also referred to as a systemic illness and as a rheumatoid disease as it affects multiple organs in the body.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic illness and some patients can go for long periods of time without experiencing debilitating symptoms but it’s typically a progressive disease that can incapacitate its victims.
In this particular autoimmune disease, the inflammation affects the tendons, ligaments and muscles which can lead to the destruction of cartilage, bone and ligaments. The joint, where bones meet and allow movement and bending of the body becomes swollen and painful with RA.  Deformity of joints is common and can occur early on in the disease.

RA is most often diagnosed in a patient after the age of forty and before the age of sixty but can be found at any age.  As with most autoimmune diseases, women are more often affected than men and in fact women are three times more likely to develop RA than their male counterparts.  Although the cause of RA is not known, multiple family members can be affected raising the question of a genetic link in the disease.  Researchers suspect that infectious agents like viruses, bacteria and fungi play a part in the development of RA but so far testing has proved inconclusive.  Researchers have discovered that smoking seems to increase the risk of developing RA.

As with other autoimmune diseases, it’s suspected that something, whether environmental or genetic, triggers the immune system to begin attacking the body and causing inflammation in organs like lungs or eyes and even the joints.

RA can be active or in remission, meaning that when tissue inflammation subsides the disease has also subsided. When a person experiences a flare or a relapse the disease has become active again a person can feel fatigue, no appetite, low grade fever, stiffness and muscle and joint aches. Mornings are more difficult for people with Rheumatoid arthritis and after long periods of inaction there is a considerable increase in stiffness and pain. During a flare up of symptoms, excessive joint fluid is produced because the lining tissue of the joint becomes inflamed, causing redness, swelling, pain and tenderness. Multiple joints are usually involved and occur in a symmetrical pattern, meaning that both sides of the body are affected.

Because the small joints of the hands and wrists are often affected, small everyday tasks become nearly impossible.  Turning a door knob becomes excruciatingly painful, opening a jar is impossible and hobbies such as knitting or painting are interrupted or must be abandoned altogether due to the pain they produce.

As with most all autoimmune diseases, there is no cure for Rheumatoid arthritis. The aim of treatment is to alleviate the symptoms and help a person suffering from RA to have a better quality of life.


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