24 September 2019 ~ Comments Off on What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Recent studies show that at least 0.5% of the population in Singapore is affected by rheumatoid arthritis. The number might not seem significant, but research about the burden of diseases also show that it is the 12th leading condition that causes burden in the country.

What is rheumatoid arthritis and how is it different from other types of arthritis?

Causes and Risks

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means that your immune system attacks your body mistakenly. When this happens, the joints are inflamed. This is the cause of the pain and swelling that patients feel. Over time the prolonged and repeated inflammation of the joints will cause irreversible damage.

There is no known cause for this condition, but because it is an autoimmune disease, it means that it can possible run in families. However, it has been found that a person might have a higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis if he/she is a smoker or is overweight. Prolonged and repeated exposure to silica and asbestos has been linked to the disease as well, although this needs further research.

Symptoms and Complications

This is the most common autoimmune arthritis in the world and may affect people as young as 30 years, although there are cases where younger people exhibit the symptoms much earlier. The affected parts are most commonly the hands and feet, but the disease might also affect other organs, specifically the lungs, eyes, and skin. The chronic illness will result in joint pain, joint swelling, joint stiffness, and decreased movement.

The most severe symptoms can last for hours or even an entire day, but they are more pronounced in the mornings. It is sometimes accompanied by loss of appetite, low-grade fever, fatigue, dry mouth, dry eyes, and the appearance of firm lumps on the hands and elbows.

These lumps are very characteristic of the condition and are called rheumatoid nodules. If the lungs are affected, there is scarring and inflammation which may result in difficulty breathing; but if blood vessels are affected, it can lead to damage in the skin, nerves and other organs. Anemia is a common complication of rheumatoid arthritis besides the damage to or deformity of the joints, scarring of lung tissues, hardening or blocking of the arteries, lymphoma, carpal tunnel syndrome, and abnormal proportion of fat to mass in the body.

Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis

There will be some damage to the nerves, but the goal of the treatment is to reduce that damage and to prevent other complications. However, it can be tricky to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis at its earliest stage because it is similar to several other illnesses. Tests are administered to determine the stage of the symptoms and to confirm that it is indeed rheumatoid arthritis and not lupus, osteoarthritis or other forms of arthritis.

Medication is given to reduce pain and inflammation as well as slow down the damage to the joints are restore function. Additional treatment may be necessary such as physical therapy and occupational therapy. Surgery is only recommended if there is severe deformity, damage, or pain in the joints.

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