What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the joints and surrounding tissues. It is characterized by symmetrical joint involvement, meaning that the same joints on both sides of the body are affected. The inflammation caused by RA leads to joint pain, swelling, and stiffness, and can also affect other parts of the body such as the skin, eyes, lungs, and heart.
The exact cause of RA is unknown, but it is thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The immune system mistakenly attacks healthy joint tissues, leading to chronic inflammation and damage. Over time, this can cause permanent joint destruction and disability.
RA is typically diagnosed in people between the ages of 40 and 60, and is more common in women than in men. It is a progressive disease, meaning that it tends to get worse over time, although there are periods of flare-ups (when symptoms worsen) and remissions (when symptoms improve).
Diagnosis of RA is based on a combination of medical history, physical examination, laboratory tests, and imaging studies. There is no single test that can diagnose RA, but tests such as the rheumatoid factor (RF) test and anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP) test can help support the diagnosis.
Treatment for RA is aimed at reducing joint inflammation, preventing joint damage, and improving function and quality of life. Treatment options include:
- Medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), and biologic agents (such as tumor necrosis factor inhibitors) can be used to reduce joint inflammation and prevent joint damage.
- Physical therapy: Exercise and physical therapy can help improve joint mobility, reduce pain and stiffness, and improve overall physical function.
- Assistive devices: Devices such as canes, braces, and splints can help support and protect affected joints.
- Surgery: In severe cases, joint replacement surgery may be necessary to relieve pain and restore joint function.
While there is no cure for RA, early diagnosis and treatment can help slow the progression of the disease and improve outcomes. It is important for people with RA to work closely with their healthcare team to develop a comprehensive treatment plan and make lifestyle modifications to manage their condition effectively.
Living with RA can be challenging, but with proper medical care and support, many people with RA are able to lead active, productive lives. Support from family and friends, along with patient support groups and counseling, can also be helpful in managing the emotional and psychological impact of the disease.