What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease. The body starts to label its own tissues as foreign and starts destruction of those tissues. One of the most common signs is long standing symmetrical swelling of joints of the hands.
RA can also cause inflammation and injury in other organs in the body. It is not just restricted to the joints and can affect multiple organs of the body. Due to this reason, rheumatoid arthritis is sometimes called rheumatoid disease.
Causes and Risk Factors
Although some virus, bacteria, and fungi are thought to be responsible for the attack, there are no known causes. Research is pointing towards genetics being a big cause for this disease.
Some research also points towards environmental factors that can accelerate or start the attack.
Symptoms and Signs
Most common early symptoms are fatigue, loss of energy, lack of appetite, low-grade fever, muscle and joint aches, and stiffness. Muscle and joint stiffness are usually most notable in the morning and after periods of inactivity.
Along with these symptoms, the joints become warm, red, swollen, painful, and tender. The reason is that underlying tissue known as synovium becomes inflamed. Continuing inflammation leads to joint deformities.
Early signs include the small joints of hand, wrists, and feet. The small joints of the feet are also commonly involved, which can lead to painful walking.
Who is at risk?
Women in the age group 20- 50 are more prone to the disease. Another group is men in the elderly age group (Late onset). If a close relative family member is affected then there is an increased risk as the disease is genetically transmitted.
As the first line of treatment, anti-inflammatory drugs are prescribed. The aim is to reduce the inflammation inside the joints to halt the pace of joint destruction. If the patient is not responding, then other drugs may be used.
Another line of treatment is gene therapy that is gaining popularity. Still another is synovectomy, which can be medical or surgical. It involves reducing the swelling in the lining membrane of the knee joints. Surgical synovectomy is done when the joint damage is not advanced and the synovitis persists. When joint destruction has occurred, then the only way to help the patient move is through joint replacement.
If RA has reached the hip, then total or short stem hip replacements are the solution.
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