Rheumatoid arthritis is a form of arthritis in which your immune system attacks the tissue lining of the joints on both sides of your body. This condition can lead to pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints. If it is left untreated, it can result in permanent joint damage. Early screening, diagnosing, and treatment, can decrease the pain or inflammation and prevent further joint damage. In this article, you will learn about the symptoms, causes, risk factors, and treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.
What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that can develop pain, inflammation, and damage in the joints of your body. The joint damage generally occurs on both sides of the body. If the joint experiences pain in one of your arms or legs, you will also feel pain in the same joint of the other leg or arm. It helps your doctor to identify RA from types of arthritis. These are the parts of your body that may experience symptoms of pain and inflammation, including
Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis may develop in everyone uniquely. Few people may have symptoms after several years. Other people may develop symptoms of RA instantly. Most people can experience symptoms (flares) and then time without symptoms (remission).
Here are the signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:
- Pain, stiffness, swelling in more than one joint
- Joint stiffness that becomes worse in the morning and after a lack of physical activity
- Pain and stiffness in the same joints on dual sides of your body
- Loss of appetite
Symptoms may go from acute to extreme levels. In the initial stages, rheumatoid arthritis starts affecting the smaller joints, specifically the joints that attach to your fingers to your hands and your toes to your feet. RA continues to develop with time, and symptoms often spread to knees, ankles, hips, elbows, and shoulders. In most cases, RA symptoms develop in the same joints on both sides of your body.
People having RA also have signs and symptoms that often do not develop in the joints. The areas or parts of the body that may be at risk of affecting with RA, including:
- Bone marrow
- Blood vessels
- Nerve tissue
- Salivary glands
Consult an online healthcare provider if you have these signs and symptoms of RA.
Causes of rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that develops when your immune system attacks the normal and healthy body tissues in your joints. It can result in health problems for your lungs, nerves, eyes, skin, and heart. Although, the particular cause of RA is still not identifiable.
When you experience RA, your immune system develops antibodies and sends them to the joint lining. These antibodies attack the joint lining tissue, which leads to breaking and dividing lining cells, resulting in inflammation. Specific chemicals released in this process may damage surrounding bones, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage.
If RA does not receive treatment, more damage will occur to the joint, which allows it to lose its shape and alignment and finally becomes destroyed.
Following are the factors that may increase the chance of developing rheumatoid arthritis include:
Age: RA can develop in any age group, however, it often develops in middle age or adults in their 50s.
Sex: Women have two to three times more risk of RA than men.
Obesity: If you are overweight, you may have a high risk of getting rheumatoid arthritis.
Family history: If your family members or relatives have rheumatoid arthritis, you may have a high risk of RA.
Smoking: Smoking cigarettes leads to a high risk of developing RA.
Diet: Taking high amounts of sugar, sodium, red meat, and iron is connected with a high chance of developing RA.
Early life exposure: The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) says that if a children’s mother smoked, this will double the chance of developing RA as adults.
Rheumatoid Arthritis may lead to a high risk of getting:
- Osteoporosis: Rheumatoid arthritis with a few medications that are used to treat RA, can develop a high risk of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition that reduces strength and weakens your bones, which readily leads to fracture.
- Infections: Rheumatoid arthritis and most medications to treat RA and improve the immune system, may lead to developing infections. You can prevent yourself from these diseases, such as shingles, COVID-19, pneumonia, and others by taking vaccines.
- Dry eyes and mouth: If you have RA, you may have a high chance of developing Sjogren’s syndrome, a condition that reduces the amount of moisture in your eyes and mouth.
- Rheumatoid nodules: Due to RA, you will often develop firm bumps of tissue around your pressure points, including elbows. Although, these nodules can develop in any part of your body.
- Heart problems: Rheumatoid arthritis may increase the risk of heart problems. It occurs by blocking or hardening the arteries besides the sac (bag) inflammation that surrounds your heart.
- Lung disease: Rheumatoid arthritis may lead to a high risk of inflammation and scarring of the lung disease that can turn into continuous breathing difficulty.
- Changes in the body composition: The ratio of fat to mass is mostly higher in people having RA.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome. Inflammation can suppress the nerves that connect your hands and fingers if RA is in your wrists.
How to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis?
A healthcare provider needs several laboratory tests to see the presence of rheumatoid arthritis. You will ask to inform about symptoms, medical history, and family history. Healthcare providers will consider a physical test that includes:
- Observing for redness and swelling
- Seeing the function and movements of the joints
- Examining the affected joints by touching them to see for warmness and tenderness
- Checking reflexes and muscle strength
There is no individual test that detects RA, your healthcare provider or rheumatologist may conduct different types of tests. Following are the blood tests to see the presence of RA, including
- Rheumatoid factor test: The RF blood test helps to determine the levels of a protein called rheumatoid factors. High levels of RF are connected with autoimmune diseases like RA.
- Anti Citrullinated peptide antibody test (anti-CCP): This test checks for antibodies that link with RA. If you have this antibody, you may have the risk of RA. However, not every individual with an RA test needs to result positive for this antibody. The anti-CCP test is more particular for RA than RF and mostly shows positive before the RF test.
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR): The ESR test helps to see the extent of inflammation in your body. But, this test does not indicate the area or cause of the inflammation.
- Antinuclear antibody test (ANA): The antinuclear antibody panel (ANA) test helps to check your immune system and whether it is developing antibodies. Your immune system makes ANA antibodies in response to different autoimmune diseases, such as RA.
- C-reactive protein test: A severe infection or inflammation develops in our body that activates your liver to make C-reactive protein. High levels of C-reactive indicate RA.
Your rheumatologist may recommend imaging tests to check for signs that your joints are damaged, including
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans
These tests not only describe the joint damage but also indicate the severity of the damage. You can schedule an online appointment with a rheumatologist to get recommendations for lab tests or imaging tests.
Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis
There are ways of effective treatment that can reduce the pain and prevent further joint damage. Rheumatoid arthritis needs doctors to find possible methods to treat the symptoms and decrease the growth of RA.
The ultimate goal of treatment for RA is to manage pain and regulate the inflammatory response. Mostly this can lead to remission. Decreasing the inflammation can help to reduce further joint and organ damage.
Following are the treatment that may include:
Many types of medications are present for RA that help decrease inflammation and pain, including
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
The other medicines that help to decrease the damage developed by RA to your body:
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
- Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors
A healthcare provider generally suggests an anti-inflammatory diet to relieve pain. Foods that contain enough omega-3 fatty acids are highly recommended. These foods include:
- Chia seeds
- Fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, and herring
- Flax seeds
Antioxidants, including vitamins A, C, and E, help to decrease inflammation. Food that possesses high antioxidants include:
- Dark chocolate
- Kidney beans
Besides, you can add more fiber to your diet. You can ask for a proper food plan through an e-consultation with a provider.
Here are the possible home remedies that you can apply to your daily life:
- Exercise – Try physical activity for at least 30 minutes to improve joint movement and strengthen muscles.
- Taking rest: Get the required sleep that decreases inflammation and pain.
- Using heat or cold: Ice packs can also reduce inflammation and pain.
A healthcare provider will guide you about the proper treatment plan based on your medical condition. In most cases, these treatments lead people to live happy life and decrease the risk of further serious complications.
If you are dealing with rheumatoid arthritis, you may have a long-term sensation of pain and fatigue. You should take immediate action and discuss your symptoms with a healthcare provider. A healthcare provider will recommend blood tests or imaging tests to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis. You can manage and control rheumatoid arthritis if you consider taking certain medications and following the treatment plan provided by your doctor. You can request an online e-consultation from a provider if you see symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.