Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis

11:31 02 May in Health, Medicine

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disorder. As an autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis causes the immune system to attack healthy cells throughout the body. This, in turn, leads to inflammation which then causes joint pain. Sometimes, however, it can damage organs, too, including the lungs, heart, and eyes.

About 18 million people around the world live with rheumatoid arthritis, according to the World Health Organization. For many people who have the disease, pain and stiffness in the joints make it difficult to maintain a day-to-day routine. Timely treatment, however, may alleviate these effects.

What are the risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis?

Gender and age are the two big risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis. Women are twice as likely as men to develop the condition, and most people develop symptoms during their sixties. Other risk factors—including smoking and obesity—may be lowered through lifestyle changes. People can lower their risk for developing rheumatoid arthritis by:

• Incorporating appropriate exercise to increase mobility

• Maintaining a healthy body weight

• Eating a nutritious diet

• Maintaining good dental health

• Not smoking

What are the symptoms?

Rheumatoid arthritis alternates between two stages: flares, when symptoms worsen; and remission, when symptoms improve. During a flare, which can last anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks, a person may experience:

• Joint pain

• Stiffness in joints

• Problems with balance

• Swelling and tenderness in joints

• Weakness

• Fever

What’s the difference between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint condition that worsens over time. While the two forms of arthritis may have similar symptoms, they have different causes. While rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, osteoarthritis results from general wear and tear causing a gradual breakdown of cartilage in the joint, age related depletion of synovial fluid, or acute trauma to the joint. Even though they both cause joint pain, it’s important for a doctor to diagnose which form of arthritis a patient has in order to match them to the most effective treatment.

How is it treated?

Although the ultimate cure has not yet been discovered, its symptoms can be managed. The earlier treatment begins, the more likely the progression of the disease will slow, or it may enter remission. Without treatment, however, the condition will worsen. If someone believes they are experiencing the early signs of rheumatoid arthritis, they should see a healthcare provider for a consultation and diagnosis.

Medications that can slow the effects of rheumatoid arthritis and prevent joint damage include disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), glucocorticoids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and analgesics (painkillers). In addition, physical and occupational therapists can provide pain relief and promote mobility with exercises designed to maintain joint flexibility. For advanced cases of rheumatoid arthritis, surgery may be the most effective option.

What are tips for living with rheumatoid arthritis?

Being physically active can alleviate the symptoms of the disease, improve joint function, and even slow its progression. People with this disease should talk with their healthcare provider about appropriate exercises, but in general, they should aim for about 150 minutes of moderate activity each week.

Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce the strain on joints that can exacerbate arthritis. Even a modest weight reduction can offer benefits. For example, losing just one pound reduces the load that a knee bears by four pounds.

Applying hot or cold packs to the affected joints may also provide pain relief. Heat can soothe tense muscles, while ice can reduce swelling and pain. In addition, some people find pain relief through relaxation techniques, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises.