What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
A chronic inflammatory disorder, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of the small joints, often starting in your hands and feet. It causes painful swelling, sometimes resulting in joint deformity and bone erosion.
How Does it Happen?
Rheumatoid arthritis is not caused by everyday wear and tear like osteoarthritis can be. Instead, it is occurs when your immune system attacks the membranes that surround your joints. This causes inflammation, which can destroy bone and cartilage in your joint. Then ligaments and tendons stretch and weaken, allowing the joint to lose its alignment and shape.
Although experts aren't sure what exactly causes this process to start, there could be both genetic and environmental factors.
What are the Signs and Symptoms?
While signs of rheumatoid arthritis can initially begin in your small joints, they eventually may affect shoulders, knees, hips, and other large joints as well. Symptoms can come and go, and they include these:
- Pain in your joints
- Swelling of your joints
- Hands that are red and puffy
- Tender joints
- Stiffness, particularly in the morning
- General fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
How is it Diagnosed?
Rheumatoid arthritis can be hard to diagnose in the early stages, since many symptoms can point to other conditions. Your doctor will do a physical examination and may also use blood tests to check for inflammation factors in your body. X-rays may also help diagnose and later track rheumatoid arthritis.
How is it Treated?
There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but there are treatments that can help reduce swelling and alleviate pain. Your doctor may suggest nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) or corticosteroid medications. Immunosuppressants may also help keep your immune system regulated. In addition, your doctor may have you work with an occupational therapist to find ways to make everyday tasks less painful and more approachable.
In some cases, surgery could be a good option for you. Procedures can include joint fusion, tendon repair, and total joint replacement.
What is the Prognosis?
In many cases, you can manage rheumatoid arthritis through pain medication and physical therapy. If you require surgery, you may need several weeks to fully recover.