Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis is a form of inflammatory arthritis and an autoimmune disease. In RA, for reasons no one fully understands, the immune system – which is designed to protect our health by attacking foreign cells such as viruses and bacteria – instead attacks the body’s own tissues, specifically the synovium, a thin membrane that lines the joints. As a result of the attack, fluid builds up in the joints, causing pain in the joints and inflammation that’s systemic – meaning it can occur throughout the body.

An estimated 1.3 million people in the United States have RA—that’s almost 1 percent of the nation’s adult population. There are nearly three times as many women as men with the disease. In women, RA most commonly begins between the ages of 30 and 60. It often occurs later in life for men.


What causes it?

The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not yet known. Most scientists agree that a combination of genetic and environmental factors is responsible. Researchers have identified genetic markers that cause a tenfold greater probability of developing rheumatoid arthritis. These genes are associated with the immune system, chronic inflammation or the development and progression of RA. Still, not all people with these genes develop rheumatoid arthritis and not all people with the disease have these genes.

Researchers are also investigating infectious agents, such as bacteria or viruses, which may trigger the disease in someone with a genetic propensity for it. Other suspects include female hormones (70 percent of people with RA are women) and the body’s response to stressful events such as physical or emotional trauma. Smoking may also play a role – it not only boosts the risk of developing RA among people with a specific gene, it can also increase the disease’s severity and reduce the effectiveness of treatment.


What are the effects?

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease. Most people with RA experience intermittent bouts of intense disease activity, called flaresIn some people the disease is continuously active and gets worse over time. Evidence shows that early diagnosis,early treatment,  and aggressive treatment to put the disease into remission is the best means of avoiding joint destruction, organ damage and disability.

The symptoms and course of rheumatoid arthritis vary from person to person and can change on a daily basis. Your joints may feel warm to the touch and you might notice a decreased range of motion, as well as inflammation, swelling and pain in the areas around the affected joints.   Because the inflammation is systemic, you’re likely to feel fatigued and you may become anemic, lose your appetite and run a low-grade fever.

In the long term, rheumatoid arthritis may affect many different joints and cause damage to cartilage, tendons and ligaments – it can even wear away the ends of your bones. One common outcome is joint deformity and disability. Some people with RA develop rheumatoid nodules; lumps of tissue that form under the skin, often over bony areas exposed to pressure. These occur most often around the elbows but can be found elsewhere on the body, such as on the fingers, over the spine or on the heels. Over time, the inflammation that characterizes RA can also affect numerous organs and internal systems.

One area in which people often have RA-related pain or inflammation is the forefoot.
Women often stop wearing heels and head to a podiatrist due to the pain.
Some people with RA may also develop pain in the heel because of plantar fasciitis, a common foot disorder caused by swelling of the tissue at the bottom of the foot, near the heel.

Another symptom of rheumatoid arthritis is carpal tunnel syndrome, which is marked by tingling in the wrist and hand. The sensation is similar to the feeling you get when you hit your funny bone.
What happens is that the swelling in the arm compresses the nerves going into the hands. The sensation is often worse at night.

People with RA are also at risk for Sjogrens syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that can cause dryness of the eyes, mouth, nose, throat, or skin due to inflammation that stops glands from releasing moisture.
This can happen even in the early stages of RA, but it’s unlikely to be the only symptom.
Most people with dry eyes head to an eye doctor to find out the cause, inform even an eye doctor or other specialist—about additional symptoms you’re having in any part of the body.


While research on the topic is scant, there does seem to be a link between weather and RA symptoms. It is likely that barometric pressure and temperature changes have the biggest impact on symptoms.Cold weather is not good for RA sufferers.

Research suggests women in the northeastern U.S. are at greater risk of RA than those in sunnier regions. Lack of sun can cause vitamin D deficiency. And vitamin D deficiency has been linked with other autoimmune diseases.

There are many benefits to breast-feeding, including a possible reduction in RA risk.

A 2004 study in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism found that, compared to women who didn't breast-feed, those who spent a total of one to two years breast-feeding had a 20% lower chance of getting RA. Those who did for two years or more had a 50% reduced risk.

Another characteristic of rheumatoid arthritis is stiffness in the joints in the morning.

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