Around 40 million people live with arthritis in the United States alone. Of those 40 million people, 1.5 million live with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
RA affects the joints, but the autoimmune condition can affect other areas of the body as well. Because RA can cause permanent damage to the joints and internal organs, it’s important to educate yourself on RA and how to maintain the symptoms if you or a loved one lives with the condition.
What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune condition where the immune system begins to attack the body’s own tissues.
RA causes inflammation in the lining of the joints, which can cause the joints to become red, warm, swollen, and painful.
In individuals with RA, the immune system cells moved from the blood and into the joints as well as the tissue that lines them. When the cells arrive, they create inflammation, which makes the joints fill with fluid and swell. Joints increasingly become swollen, painful, red, and warm to the touch.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Symptoms & Warning Signs
Rheumatoid arthritis affects people in different ways. Sometimes, symptoms of RA occur slowly over several years. Sometimes symptoms of RA occur quickly.
The warning signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:
- Stiffness; especially in the morning or after sitting for a long period of time
- Pain and swelling in the joints; the joints may also turn red and feel warm to the touch
What causes rheumatoid arthritis?
Doctors are not entirely sure what causes rheumatoid arthritis. However, we do know that something triggers the immune system to attack the joints and, at times, other organs within the body.
While the exact cause of RA is unknown, some medical professionals believe RA is caused by a bacteria or virus that alters the individual’s immune system, causing it to attack the joints.
Other theories suggest that certain factors like poor nutrition lack of exercise, smoking, and genetic patterns may make someone more likely to develop RA than others.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosis
Rheumatoid arthritis can be difficult to diagnose because there is no one test that shows whether or not a patient has RA. If you suspect you may have RA, your doctor will perform a checkup, inquire about your symptoms, and may perform blood tests and X-rays.
An RA diagnosis is confirmed via a combination of symptoms, including:
- Joint pain that is symmetrical, especially in the hands
- Joint stiffness that occurs in the morning or after long periods of sitting
- Bumps and nodules (also known as rheumatoid nodules) under the skins
- Blood tests and X-ray results
When looking at your blood test results, your doctor will pay special attention to your number of red blood cells, C-reactive protein (CRP), Cyclic citrulline antibody test (anti-CCP), Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), and Rheumatoid factor (RF), which is a specific antibody people sometimes have in their blood.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Risk Factors
Anyone can get rheumatoid arthritis, although the autoimmune condition affects just one percent of Americans. These may be risk factors for RA:
- Age: RA typically starts in middle age (between 40 and 60), but both young children and the elderly can develop RA too.
- Environment: Exposure to a toxic chemical may increase your odds of developing RA.
- Gender: Women are two to three times more likely to develop RA than men, but men typically experience more severe symptoms.
- Family history: If someone in your family has RA, you may be more likely to get it.
- Obesity: Being overweight may make you more likely to develop RA.
- Smoking: Smoking can increase your risk.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatments
Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis varies depending on your age, gender, overall health, medical history, and how severe your RA is.
For most people with RA, treatments include medication, rest, and exercise. In some cases, surgery is needed to correct severe joint damage.
Medication For Rheumatoid Arthritis
RA medication aims to ease joint pain, inflammation, and swelling. These medications include:
- OTC anti-inflammatory painkillers like aspirin, ibuprofen, and Tylenol
- Pain reliever lotions and serums
- Narcotic pain relievers
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs); these are strong medications that interfere with the immune system’s attack on the joints
Biologic Response Modifiers For Rheumatoid Arthritis
These are man-made proteins in human genes. If the above medications aren’t enough to manage your RA symptoms, your doctor may recommend a biologic or a biologic and a DMARD concurrently. These biologics are approved for individuals with RA:
- Abatacept (Orencia)
- Adalimumab (Humira)
- Anakinra (Kineret)
- Certolizumab (Cimzia)
- Etanercept (Enbrel)
- Infliximab (Remicade)
- Rituximab (Rituxan)
- Sarilumab (Kevzara)
- Tocilizumab (Actemra)
- Tofacitinib (Xeljanz)
Rest & Exercise For Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rest and exercise are important for everyone, especially those who have RA. People with RA need to be active but also need to know how to pace themselves. If you have a flare-up, be sure to rest your joints.
During times when inflammation is under control, try to exercise. Exercise will keep your joints flexible and will help strengthen the muscles around your joints. We recommend low-impact activities like walking, swimming, and gentle stretching.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Complications
Although rheumatoid arthritis primarily affects the joints, RA can affect other areas of the body too. RA can cause issues with the eyes, blood vessels, heart, lungs, and skin in a similar way that it affects the joints. In addition, people may experience negative side effects from any medications they take to control their RA.
How to Manage Rheumatoid Arthritis
Living with rheumatoid arthritis doesn’t mean you are going to be in pain all of the time. In fact, you can still feel great – but it’s important that you take control of your health and work to manage your RA.
The easiest way to manage your RA is to find a doctor you trust and have an open line of communication with. He or she will work with your to ease your symptoms with medication, treatments, or a combination of the two.
While this can help you manage your RA, it’s important that you live a lifestyle conducive to managing your symptoms. A healthy lifestyle includes diet, exercise, weight management, and stress reduction.
Contact The Orthopedic Clinic
At the Orthopedic Clinic, we want you to live your life in full motion. If you would like to learn more about rheumatoid arthritis or need help managing your RA symptoms, contact us today.
Call us at (386) 255-4596 to schedule an appointment.