What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis? Know Causes, Symptoms, Stages And Treatment Strategies!

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Published on: 17-May-2024

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What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis? Know Causes, Symptoms, Stages And Treatment Strategies!

What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis? Know Causes, Symptoms, Stages And Treatment Strategies!

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Have you ever wondered how rheumatoid arthritis (RA) impacts the lives of individuals? It is an inflammatory and chronic disorder that mainly affects the joints, resulting in pain and stiffness. It's an autoimmune disease, meaning the body's immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues.  

In recent years, there have been significant advancements in understanding and managing RA, leading to improved diagnosis and treatment options. Here, we will explore the impact, causes, diagnosis, and management of rheumatoid arthritis to provide a better understanding of this condition. Let's decipher the complexities of rheumatoid arthritis together, arming you with information and empowering you to navigate this journey with knowledge. 

 

Table of Contents  

  1. What is Rheumatoid Arthritis? 

  1. What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis? 

  1. Early Symptoms Of Rheumatoid Arthritis  

  1. Certain Risk factors Responsible For Rheumatoid Arthritis 

  1. Different Stages Of Rheumatoid Arthritis  

  1. Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis  

  1. Expert's Advice 

  1. The Final Say 

  1. FAQs 

  1. References 

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis? 

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a long-lasting condition that mainly affects the joints, causing pain and stiffness. It generally occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own tissues. It's more common in women and often starts in middle age, but it can be experienced by anyone at any age.  

RA can cause joint swelling, fatigue, and limited mobility. If not managed timely and properly, it can lead to joint damage and disability. Early diagnosis and proactive treatment are important for managing RA effectively and preventing long-term problems.  

Treatment usually involves taking medications to reduce inflammation and calm down the overactive immune system. Along with medication, physical therapy and lifestyle changes can also help ease symptoms and keep the joints working well. By taking a comprehensive approach, people with RA can better control their condition and have a better quality of life. 

What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis? 

Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the most common autoimmune disorders experienced by millions around the world. Generally, the responsibility of the immune system is to protect our cells and tissues from infections and disease. But, sometimes, your immune system recognises self-cells as pathogens and starts attacking them, leading to autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis. It is a serious problem as it can also cause an interruption in the functioning of the organs like the heart, lungs, eyes, nerves & skin. 

Early Symptoms Of Rheumatoid Arthritis  

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) causes joint pain and stiffness by causing the immune system to attack the synovium, resulting in inflammation, swelling, and tenderness in the affected joints. 

The ongoing tiredness experienced by RA patients is likely due to the body's constant battle against inflammation and pain. This battle disrupts normal sleep patterns and energy regulation, leading to feelings of exhaustion. 

In RA, joints can't move as well due to ongoing inflammation and, eventually, joint damage, which makes it hard for them to move freely and comfortably. 

Morning stiffness, a common symptom of RA, occurs as the inflammation gets worse during rest periods, especially overnight when there's minimal movement. This allows inflammation to intensify without the usual dispersion that occurs during activity. 

RA can cause joint deformities due to continuous inflammation and cartilage destruction, leading to instability and misalignment of affected joints, which further hinders mobility and functionality. 

It can also cause symptoms like fever and weight loss, which are a result of the body's systemic inflammatory response affecting various organs beyond the joints and contributing to a range of additional symptoms. 

 

Certain Risk Factors Responsible For Rheumatoid Arthritis 

Here is the list of common risk factors that can lead to the development of rheumatoid arthritis: 

  • Genetics: Your family history is one of the key reasons behind RA. If someone in your family has rheumatoid arthritis, then there is a high chance that it can be passed on to the new generation. 

  • Gender-Specific: Although RA can be caused by anyone, women are relatively more prone to develop RA than men. 

  • Smoking: This is not only a big reason for RA but also a red flag for many more disorders like cancer, heart attack, etc. When you smoke, you are inhaling harmful chemicals that lead to autoimmune disorders. 

  • Obesity: Last but not least, being overweight is another major contributing factor for rheumatoid arthritis. It is also a big reason for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disorders. 

Different Stages Of Rheumatoid Arthritis  

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) unfolds in stages, each presenting distinct symptoms and implications for treatment. Here is a simplified breakdown:  
 

1. Early Stage (Stage 1) 

  • Initially, RA may manifest as mild joint pain, stiffness, and fatigue.  

  • At this point, joint inflammation is underway, but visible damage might not yet appear on imaging tests.  

  • Detecting and addressing RA early is crucial because prompt intervention can slow or prevent joint damage.  

2. Moderate Stage (Stage 2) 

  • Symptoms intensify, disrupting daily activities and quality of life.  

  • Inflammation escalates, causing swelling, tenderness, and restricted joint movement.  

  • Imaging studies may reveal initial signs of joint erosion, indicating progressive damage.  

3. Severe Stage (Stage 3) 

  • Joint damage advances, leading to deformities, instability, and functional limitations.  

  • Chronic inflammation can inflict irreversible harm, resulting in joint deformities like partial dislocation or permanent bending.  

  • Other complications, such as organ inflammation or heightened cardiovascular risk, may emerge 

4. End-Stage (Stage 4) 

  • At this juncture, severe joint damage, deformities, and profound disability characterise the condition.  

  • Individuals may grapple with severe pain, diminished mobility, and challenges performing daily tasks.  

  • Surgical interventions, like joint replacement, might be necessary to alleviate pain and enhance function in severely affected joints.  

Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis  

Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Treating rheumatoid arthritis (RA) requires a comprehensive strategy to tackle inflammation, manage symptoms, slow down disease progression, and enhance overall well-being. Here is a closer look at the various treatment options available:  

1. Medications  

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) help alleviate pain and inflammation, though they do not halt RA's progression. They are commonly used for symptom relief.  

Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) like methotrexate and hydroxychloroquine target the immune system, curbing the autoimmune response responsible for joint damage. They are often the first line of defence against RA.  

Biologic DMARDs are a newer class of drugs that pinpoint specific immune components involved in RA. Examples include TNF inhibitors and IL-6 inhibitors. Biologics step in when traditional DMARDs do not suffice.  

Corticosteroids offer rapid relief from RA symptoms by suppressing inflammation, but they are typically reserved for short-term use due to potential long-term side effects.  

2. Lifestyle and Home Remedies 

You can also make some modifications to your lifestyle or try some home remedies to improve your health condition. Try exercises like walking, cycling or swimming that foster joint flexibility, reduce pain, and bolster overall health.  

3. Physical Therapy 

This can help enhance joint flexibility, strength, and mobility while imparting strategies for pain relief and joint protection. You can also use heat and cold therapy to soothe inflamed joints. Heat eases muscle tension and promotes blood flow, while cold numbs the area and diminishes swelling.  

4. Surgery 

This treatment is used in severe RA cases which cannot be treated by medication. It includes joint replacement surgery, synovectomy (removing inflamed joint lining), and tendon repair.  

5. Complementary and Alternative Therapies 

Some individuals find relief through complementary therapies like acupuncture, massage, or dietary supplements such as fish oil and turmeric. While evidence supporting their effectiveness is limited, they can complement conventional treatments. 

Expert's Advice 

As a health expert, I advise individuals managing rheumatoid arthritis (RA) on dietary strategies to help alleviate symptoms and support overall health. While there's no magic diet for RA, making thoughtful food choices can reduce inflammation and promote joint health. I recommend a diet rich in veggies, fruits, whole grains and proteins. These edibles contain antioxidants and essential nutrients that may help ease joint discomfort and combat inflammation. Additionally, I encourage individuals to limit their intake of packaged foods, sugary drinks, and foods high in saturated fats, as these can exacerbate inflammation.  

Health Expert  
Dr. Aditi Upadhayay 

The Final Say 

Well, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is one of the most challenging conditions marked by ongoing joint inflammation, resulting in pain, stiffness, and potential joint damage. However, timely diagnosis and proactive treatment are pivotal in minimising joint deterioration, maintaining function, and enhancing overall well-being. 

You can also take a holistic approach, such as medication, lifestyle adjustments, physical therapy, and sometimes surgical intervention, to manage RA. Lastly, increasing awareness, early detection, and comprehensive care are essential in addressing the complexities of rheumatoid arthritis and supporting individuals affected by this condition.  

 

FAQs 

1. How is RA diagnosed?   

Some methods to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis are: 

  • Evaluation of symptoms  

  • Physical exams 

  • Medical history review 

  • Blood tests 

  • Imaging scans 

2. What treatment options are available for RA?   

Some of the best treatment options for RA include: 

  • Medications 

  • Lifestyle modifications 

  • Physical therapy 

  • Surgery 

3. Can diet play a role in managing RA?   

Of course, diet plays a very important role in improving RA. For this, watch out for green veggies, fresh and juicy fruits, and foods rich in proteins and fibre. These all support overall health. 

4. What complications can arise from RA?   

If you are experiencing rheumatoid arthritis, then you should be aware of the following complications: 

  • Damage in joints  

  • Deformities  

  • Disability  

  • Disorders of the heart, lungs and eyes 

References  

 

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