Adult Rheumatoid Arthritis
What Is It?
Rheumatoid arthritis is one type of autoimmune disorder. Autoimmune diseases are marked by deficiencies of the immune system to recognize and destroy foreign substances from healthy bodily tissues. Rheumatoid arthritis is marked by this immune system malfunction, typically limited to the joint areas. The immune response causes inflammation, swelling, and stiffness of the joints. Normally, once the infection has been destroyed, the inflammation and swelling will decrease. However, with rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system forces a hyperactive chronic condition. The symptoms can continue for long periods of time. This can lead to certain damages to cartilage, the protective tissues that surround the joints.
Who Gets It?
Rheumatoid arthritis is capable of affecting any individual of any age, race, culture, and socio-economic stature. It is more commonly diagnosed (over three times more) in women than men, and typically develops between the ages of 25 and 50. In total, rheumatoid arthritis affects approximately one percent of Americans. It does appear to have a genetic factor, as rheumatoid arthritis typically runs in families.
The exact causes of rheumatoid arthritis remain unknown, as does the exact mechanisms of immune system function. Many researchers agree that it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors. It has been proposed that a genetic susceptibility must be present, but environmental factors trigger the disease. Autoimmune disorders have been linked to certain infections and food allergies, but more research is necessary to determine the exact causes and mechanisms.
Rheumatoid arthritis is associated with highly variable symptoms. The onset of symptoms is typically gradual, developing from mild joint pain, muscle aches, weakness, and mild fatigue into more severe symptoms. The condition of rheumatoid arthritis is also highly variable with symptoms based on each particular individual such as:
- Morning stiffness
- Increased joint pain and inflammation
- Itching, burning, and discharge of the eyes
- Limited range of motion (ROM)
- Feet and hand deformities
- Lung inflammation (pleurisy)
- Swollen glands
- Round, painless nodules under the skin
- Loss of appetite
- Skin inflammation or redness
A diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis is typically accomplished by the completion of specific x-rays of joints and certain blood tests. Additionally, your physician will review your entire medical history and symptoms, as rheumatoid arthritis is typically known to run in families and is distinguishable by symptoms. It is also possible that your physician will test the synovial fluid of the joints. Examination of joint synovial fluid with the aid of a microscope can identify inflammation.
There are a variety of treatments available that address the signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, but there is no known cure. You should consult your physician about treatment options for the diagnosis and treatment options for rheumatoid arthritis. While there are medications available for treatment, side effects should be discussed with your physician, as there are also many natural treatment methods.
Photo Credit: Nuevo Anden