Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects approximately 1.3 million people in the United States, according to the Arthritis Foundation. It typically strikes adults over age 40. And women are three times more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than men. Learn how this disease affects the body and tips for relieving the pain.
An autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis develops when the body’s immune system, for reasons unknown, attacks the lining of the joints (synovium). This causes joint pain and can produce inflammation anywhere in the body.
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Unfortunately, rheumatoid arthritis has no known cause or cure.
But scientists have identified certain genetic markers that make some people more vulnerable to RA than others. However, not all people with these genes develop RA, and not all people with RA have these genes. Because 70 percent of RA sufferers are women, some experts suspect a link between RA and female hormones. Others believe RA develops in response to certain traumatic or emotional events.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects each individual differently. For many people, the disease flares up for certain periods, while others may experience lengthy remissions with no symptoms. In general, RA sufferers share certain common symptoms, including the five listed below (sources: Arthritis Foundation, Mayo Clinic and WebMD):
1. Swollen joints: Excessive fluid in the joint produces inflammation, which can eventually erode the adjacent bone, causing permanent damage and even deformity.
2. Stiffness: This symptom is most common in the morning and may last for several hours after waking up. It can also occur after sitting for long periods of time.
3. Decreased range of motion: Limited joint movement results from inflammation. Because RA is symmetrical, it often affects corresponding joints on both sides of the body.
4. Fatigue, fever and weight loss: RA affects the entire system, which can leave the person feeling tired and weak. Some people may also run a low-grade fever.
5. Bumps under the skin: Some people may develop lumps of tissue (rheumatoid nodules) over the bony areas that endure the most pressure from RA. Typically, the elbows, fingers or heels.
Early diagnosis and treatment have shown to be the best means of fighting RA and avoiding joint deterioration or deformity. Physicians can prescribe medicines that reduce inflammation (such as corticosteroids) as well as ones that put the disease in remission (including biologic agents).
Moderate, regular exercise can also help decrease fatigue and strengthen muscles. Men and women with rheumatoid arthritis should work with their doctor to devise the best plan to fit their individual needs.
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