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Rheumatoid Arthritis: Symptoms, Risk Factors, and Treatment

Rheumatoid Arthritis: Symptoms, Risk Factors, and Treatment

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a chronic, autoimmune, inflammatory condition, can significantly affect a person’s quality of life. Here’s what you need to know about this disease.

Rheumatoid Arthritis, an Overview

Like mentioned earlier, RA is an autoimmune disease. This means that the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks our healthy cells, causing swelling or inflammation. In the case of RA, the affected areas are usually many joints at once. Commonly, these are the joints on the wrists, hands, and knees.

When you have rheumatoid arthritis, the lining of your joints becomes inflamed. This causes damage to the tissues, which then results in inflammation, leading to loss of balance, chronic pain, and deformity. But then, rheumatoid arthritis can also affect other organs of the body, such as the eyes, lungs, and heart.

Signs and Symptoms

Initially, RA affects the small joints, usually those connecting the fingers to the hands and the toes to the feet. Eventually, the condition will affect the bigger joints, such as those in the wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles. People with rheumatoid arthritis often experience the condition on both sides of the body.

Here are the common joint-related symptoms:

Other symptoms also include:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss

Also, note that about 40% of people with rheumatoid arthritis experience symptoms that involve the:

  • Eyes
  • Heart
  • Lungs
  • Skin
  • Blood vessels
  • Nerve tissue
  • Bone marrow
  • Salivary glands
  • Kidneys

Important:

The signs and symptoms, as well as their severity, vary from one person to another. Times when there is an increased disease activity (flares) also alternate with periods of decreased activity (remission), when the pain and swelling disappear.

Causes and Risk Factors

As mentioned earlier, RA is an autoimmune disease where the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells of the body. The exact cause is unknown, but there are several risk factors:

Genetics

People with certain genes are at a higher risk of developing RA. Moreover, having the gene, HLA (human leukocyte antigen) class II genotypes, can make RA more severe.

Experts say the risk becomes higher when those with genetic factors are exposed to environmental factors.

Age

People can develop rheumatoid arthritis at any age, but the risk increases as they grow older. Reports say cases are higher in people in their sixties.

Sex

Women are more likely to develop RA than men.

Overweight and Obesity

Being overweight or obese increases the risk of RA. Furthermore, the higher the weight is, the higher the risk is, too.

Smoking

Numerous studies have shown that smoking cigarettes not only increases a person’s risk of having RA, it can also make the disease worse.

Note that children who were born to mothers who smoke might also have a higher risk of developing RA later in life.

History of Live Births

Women who have not given birth are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis.

Treatment

Ultimately, the goal of RA treatment is to stop or slow down the inflammation of the lining of the joints to prevent joint damage. As the damage may occur within two years of onset, it’s crucial to get treatment right away. Doing so can reduce the risk of long-term complications.

The doctor may recommend medicine for pain and swelling, such as NSAIDs and corticosteroids. They might also prescribe DMARDS or Disease-Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs, like Methotrexate and Hydroxychloroquine.

If such medicines do not work, the doctor may proceed with biologics, which target the molecules that trigger inflammation in the joints.

As the disease may also cause deformities, surgery might also be recommended.

Key Takeaways

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy cells of the joints, causing inflammation and pain. While the exact cause is unknown, there are factors that increase the risk. The goal of treatment is to stop or slow down the inflammation so as to prevent or reduce damages to the joints.

Learn more about Joint Health here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Rheumatoid arthritis, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/rheumatoid-arthritis/symptoms-causes/syc-20353648, Accessed May 26, 2022

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/rheumatoid-arthritis.html, Accessed May 26, 2022 

Rheumatoid Arthritis, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4924-rheumatoid-arthritis, Accessed May 26, 2022

Treatment, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/rheumatoid-arthritis/treatment/, Accessed May 26, 2022

Rheumatoid Arthritis, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441999/, Accessed May 26, 2022

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Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. Updated 3 weeks ago
Fact Checked by Kristel Lagorza