A Quick Guide: Understanding Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Rheumatoid Arthritis is the most common form of autoimmune arthritis, affecting more than 1.3 million Americans. Of these, about 75 percent are women. In fact, 1–3 percent of women may get rheumatoid arthritis in their lifetime. The disease most often begins between the fourth and sixth decades of life. However, RA can start at any age.

RA is a chronic (long-term) disease that causes pain, stiffness, swelling and limited motion and function of many joints. While RA can affect any joint, the small joints in the hands and feet tend to be involved most often. Inflammation sometimes can affect organs as well, for instance, the eyes or lungs.

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.

Finally…

The rheumatologists at Amarillo Diagnostic Clinic specialize in treating patients with arthritis, gout, lupus and related diseases.  Knowledge of these diseases continues to expand through research efforts.  Our major goal is to limit any arthritic damage, especially in rheumatoid arthritis.  Our services include bone density testing, joint injections and an IV infusion clinic for new medications.  Our rheumatologists are armed with the latest information regarding your disease and treatment options to improve your quality of life. Contact us for more information or to schedule an appointment.

(Some information provided by the American College of Rheumatology).

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