Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that typically affects the small joints in the hands and feet. In some instances, joints in the neck, shoulders, elbows, hips, knees and ankles may be impacted. Unlike the wear-and-tear damage of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of the joints. This can cause painful swelling that can eventually result in bone erosion and joint deformity.
Symptoms for Rheumatoid arthritis
It is an autoimmune disease that triggers the immune system to attack the membrane lining the joints. This, in turn, causes stiffness, pain, swelling and fatigue. Swollen, crooked fingers are the hallmark of RA. Symptoms can last for years. The Arthritis Foundation reports that approximately 1.5 million people in the United States have it.
According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), people with RA typically experience flare-ups, as well as intermittent periods of improvement (called remissions). However, some people experience symptoms all the time. In extreme cases, the disease can lead to joint damage and disability. The NIAMS reports that many people with RA experience depression, anxiety, feelings of helplessness, and low self-esteem.
When it comes to treatment, RA can be approached in a variety of ways. Most options aim to reduce pain, bring down inflammation, slow down joint damage, and improve overall quality of life. According to the NIAMS, current approaches include lifestyle changes, medications, surgery, and routine monitoring and ongoing care. Lifestyle changes might take the form of striking a better balance between down time and physical activity. Using a splint can also improve symptoms for some. Reducing stress and maintaining a healthy diet are recommended, as well. In terms of medications, many people with RA take pain relievers, anti-inflammatories and corticosteroids.
Drugs called DMARDs (disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs) are also commonly used. In some cases of RA, surgeries like joint replacement may be an option. Arthrodesis (fusion) is another procedure that involves removing the joint and then fusing the bones together, which strips them of them of their mobility.
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