5/21/2013


Many people today suffer from a type of arthritis known as rheumatoid arthritis. Statistics show that as many as 2.1 million Americans (or one percent of the population) suffer from this disease. About three times as many women as men are affected by rheumatoid arthritis. There is no cure for this disease, which causes an inflammation of the lining (also known as the synovium) of the joints. However, a combination of exercise, joint protection techniques, self-management techniques, and medication can help rheumatoid arthritis suffers lead a happier and healthier life.

When the joint lining becomes inflamed because of rheumatoid arthritis, it can cause pain, swelling, and stiffness. Because of those symptoms, people may lose function of the area affected. Rheumatoid arthritis usually affects the small joints of the feet and hands first. Rheumatoid arthritis can also affect glands (such as the tear and salivary) and the lining of the heart and lungs. Symptoms include joint pain, swelling, warmth, stiffness, and overall fatigue. Joints may feel tender and you may even run a small fever. Stiffness in the joints often lasts more than 30 minutes after waking in the morning. Because of the pain and discomfort, people with rheumatoid arthritis may also have trouble sleeping. Symptoms may also be worse when getting up after resting.

About 25% of those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis will develop small bumps under the skin. These bumps, known as rheumatoid nodules, are not normally painful. They may develop at the elbow, back of the scalp, or on the knees, hands, feet, or heels. The size of the nodules can range from pea size to that of a walnut.

Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms can come and go in severity. Increased activity in the symptoms is known as flares or flare-ups. During these times, the disease is more active. This can lead to joint damage that often results in disability. Those with severe cases of rheumatoid arthritis can have active periods that last for years.

Rheumatoid arthritis consists of three stages:

1. Stage 1 involves the swelling of the lining, which causes pain, warmth, and stiffness around the joint.

2. In Stage 2, the cells of the lining rapidly grow and divide, causing the lining to thicken.

3. The cells release enzymes in Stage 3 that eat into the bone and cartilage. This can cause the joint to be misshaped, causing further pain and loss of function.

Getting an early diagnosis for rheumatoid arthritis allows for a good prognosis for living a productive life. When diagnosed early, doctors can prescribe an aggressive treatment therapy that can limit the damage done to joints. This will give you better function of the joints affected and help avoid later medical costs and loss of movement. Studies show that just 24 months of undiagnosed rheumatoid arthritis can do serious damage to the joints.

Doctors are not certain what causes rheumatoid arthritis. It is, however, an autoimmune disease. This means the body’s immune system does not act as it should, but rather attacks the joint tissues. Doctors believe that rheumatoid arthritis can be hereditary, meaning it runs in families. Scientists have pinpointed genes found in the immune system that may determine whether you have rheumatoid arthritis, but sometimes people who have those genes never develop rheumatoid arthritis.

There are many steps to diagnosing someone with rheumatoid arthritis. The doctor will look at your medical history. He will ask questions such as “Do you have stiffness in the morning?” and “When is the pain most severe?” Based on the series of questions, the doctor may be able to determine if you have rheumatoid arthritis, but he may also rely on the results from a physical exam. The physical exam may show joint swelling, loss of motion, and misalignment.

He may also order lab tests such as a blood count, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, c-reactive protein, rheumatoid factor, and antinuclear antibodies. He may order x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), an ultrasound of the joints, and a bone densitometry study (DEXA). Using all these tools, the doctor should be able to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis then develop a management plan.

Rheumatoid arthritis can be a debilitating disease, but today more than ever, there are treatments and medication that can make living with the disease much easier.


About The Author

Dr. Beth Paxton is a family physician and educator on common health issues today's family faces, and how to prevent and deal with the health concerns such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease. http://www.doctors-advice.com/ .

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