Rheumatoid Arthritis: What you need to know.

RA

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory disease that causes pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of function in the joints. It occurs when the immune system, which normally defends the body from invading organisms, turns its attack against the membrane lining the joints.

RA has several features that make it different from other kinds of arthritis. For example, RA generally occurs in a symmetrical pattern, meaning that if one knee or hand is involved, the other one also it. The disease often affects the wrist joints and the finger joints closest to the hand. It can also affect other parts of the body besides the joints. In addition, people with RA may have fatigue, occasional fevers and loss of energy.

The course of RA can range from mild to severe. In most cases it is chronic, meaning it lasts a long time – often a lifetime. For many people, periods of relatively mild disease activity are punctuated by flares or times of heightened disease activity. In other symptoms are constant.

Features of Rheumatoid Arthritis

  • Tender, warm, swollen joints
  • Symmetrical pattern of affected joints
  • Joint inflammation often affecting the wrist and finger joints closest to the hand
  • Joint inflammation sometimes affecting other joints, including the neck, shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, ankles and feet
  • Fatigue, occasional fevers, a loss of energy
  • Pain and stiffness lasting for more than 30 minutes in the morning or after a long rest
  • Symptoms that last for many years
  • Variability of symptoms among people with the disease.

Who has Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Scientists estimate that about 1.5 million people, or about 0.6 percent of the U.S. adult population, have RA. Interestingly, some recent studies have suggested that although the number of new cases of RA for older people is increasing, the overall number of new cases may actually be going down.

RA occurs in all races and ethnic groups. Although the disease often begins in middle age and occurs with increased frequency in older people, older teenagers and young adults may also be diagnosed with the disease. Children and younger teenagers may be diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (a condition related to RA). Like some other forms of arthritis, RA occurs much more frequently in women than in men. About two to three times as many women as men have the disease.

How does Rheumatoid Arthritis Affect People’s Lives?

RA affects people differently. Some people have mild or moderate forms of the disease, with periods of worsening symptoms, called flares, and periods in which they feel better, called remissions. Others have a severe form of the disease that is active most of the time, lasts fro many years or a lifetime and leads to serious joint damage and disability.

Although RA is primarily a disease of the joints, its effects are not just physical. Many people with RA also experience issues related to:

  • Depression
  • feelings of helplessness
  • low self-esteem

RA can affect virtually every part of a person’s life, from work life to family life. It can also interfere with the joys and responsibilities of family life and may affect the decision to have children.

Fortunately, current treatment strategies allow most people with the disease to lead active and productive lives. These strategies include pain relieving drugs and medications that slow joint damage, a balance between rest and exercise, and patient education and support programs. In recent years, research has led to a new understanding of RA and has increased the likelihood that, in time, researchers will find even better ways to treat the disease.

Don’t live with undiagnosed symptoms. Contact us today to learn more about RA or to schedule an appointment.

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