What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects nearly 3 million people in the US. The condition appears mainly in women (at a ratio of around 9 to 1 compared with men), typically between the ages of 30 and 50. Unlike osteoarthritis (OA), which is caused by structural issues due to wear and tear on the body through injury and the process of aging, RA is an auto-immune disorder. This mean the body starts to attack itself for no reason that is yet understood.
OA usually affects the knees and hips. RA usually affects wrists and hands, and ankles and feet. The disease also tends to be symmetrical, that is, affect both sides of the body, such as both hands at the same time.
With RA, the body’s immune system starts to attack the synovium, the lining of the joints, which helps keep them lubricated with synovial fluid. The inflamed synovium invades and destroys the cartilage and bone within the joint. The surrounding muscles, ligaments, and tendons that support and stabilize the joint become weak and unable to work normally. Over time, this will twist and deform the bones.
RA mostly affects the hands, leading to a gnarled, twisted appearance, especially in the fingers. This makes it difficult to perform the basic activities of daily living (ADLs) like getting washed and dressed, and preparing meals.
RA also affects the entire body, resulting in fatigue, intermitted fevers, and an overall loss of energy. Those with RA also have to be careful of heart-health issues.
In order to prevent severe damage from RA, exercise is essential, followed by periods of rest. However, rest periods can make a person feel stiffer, and that stiffness can last throughout the day, as compared with OA, in which the stiffness will usually last no more than 30 minutes after rising.
RA can be very unpredictable, with cases varying in severity, and symptoms changing over time. In some cases, a person might have flare-ups, sudden severe symptoms, and then feel fine until the next flare-up. In other cases, the symptoms are always present.
RA is a chronic illness, that is, one which lasts a long time and at the present, there is no cure, only a range of both natural and prescription treatments.
The goal of treatment is to relieve the warmth, redness, swelling, and pain in the joints. If you suspect you have RA, early treatment is best to try prevent disabling damage.