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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), which belongs to autoimmune diseases family, is a chronic inflammatory disorder that primarily affects joints. It is caused by invalid reaction of the immune system, and frequently attacks wrists and hands. As in the case of autoimmune disorders, the exact cause of RA is still unknown, and the cure is not available. It should not be ignored, since this condition may result in permanent joint damage and distortion. The most common symptoms include swollen, painful, stiff and warm joints, rheumatoid nodules, fatigue and low grade fever.
Rheumatoid arthritis characteristics
Rheumatoid arthritis occurs, when the immune system attacks synovium instead of foreign pathogens. Synovium is a connective tissue that surrounds your joints, and is essential for proper movement. Initially RA affects small joints in the area of wrist, palm, feet and neck. When the condition develops, it may move to a bigger joints like shoulder, elbow or knee. It may attack both males and females, but women are affected up to 5 times more often than men. Although there is no cure available, medical treatment is highly required in order to relieve the symptoms. What is more, rheumatoid arthritis may reduce average lifespan by over 10 years, and leaves permanent joint damage and distortion. Annual death rate is constantly growing, when compared to previous years.
Rheumatoid arthritis causes and symptoms
The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is still unknown. However, there are few factors that greatly increase the risk. One of them is genetic background, which cannot trigger the disease itself, but makes the patient more vulnerable to environmental factors. One of those non-genetic cause may be smoking, viral infection, obesity or vitamin D deficiency.
The hallmark of the rheumatoid arthritis is joint involvement. It leads to swollen, painful, warm and stiff joints. While the joint stiffness is present especially at the morning or after idleness, rest of the symptoms may occur in intervals on random occasions. RA initially affects smaller joints, and during its development it can move to a bigger joint like shoulder, knee, elbow, hip or ankle. Another popular signs are rheumatoid nodules, which are present in 3 out of 10 cases. In addition, sometimes the disease can affect other organs, such as lungs, kidneys, cardiovascular system, eyes, liver or bones.
The most common symptoms include:
- Swollen, painfull and warm joints
- Low fever
- Joints stiffness
- Rheumatoid nodules
Rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis and treatment
RA not is not always easy to detect, especially on early stages, since it shares some popular symptoms with other diseases. What is more, at the beginning those symptoms may be so mild, that they become unnoticed. Unfortunately, one particular test or exam that will detect RA does not exist. The diagnosis is often based on the symptoms and several tests such as elevated erythrocyte sedimentation, C-reactive protein, complete blood count and X-rays.
There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, and for this reason, the treatment is only used for restraining the spread of RA, avoiding bone deformation and for relieving the symptoms. However, recent studies shows, that early and aggressive treatment with disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) can greatly minimize the symptoms. Another type of medications are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which help to reduce the joints pain and stiffness. Additionally, in early stages of the disease a surgery may be performed, in order to protect the inflamed synovia. Apart from professional methods mentioned above, a regular physical exercises are strongly recommended, because they are beneficial for general physical condition and help to overcome the symptoms.