What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a chronic (long-term) disease that results in inflammation of the joints. The inflammation could be so severe that it starts affecting how the joints and other parts of the body function and look. In the hand, rheumatoid arthritis might cause deformities in the joints of the fingers. This could make moving your hands difficult. Lumps, called rheumatoid nodules, might form anywhere in the body.
Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA), also called Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA), is a type of arthritis that occurs in children of ages 16 or younger. It causes joint stiffness and inflammation that could last for more than 6 weeks. Children with JIA could have symptoms that come and go, unlike adult RA, which could last a lifetime. Or, the symptoms could even go away completely. Getting diagnosed and treated early could help in preventing joint damage. Some children dealing with JIA may continue to have arthritis into adulthood.
What causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Although RA is an autoimmune disorder, orthopaedists to this day don't know the exact cause of RA. An autoimmune disorder means that the body's immune system starts attacking its own healthy tissues and cells. RA results in inflammation in and around the joints. It could damage the skeletal system, and can also damage other organs, like the lungs and heart. Researchers feel certain factors, including heredity, can play a role.
RA usually occurs in people from ages 30 - 50, but it might happen at any age. It occurs more in women than in men.
What are the symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?
The joints usually affected by RA are in the elbows, hands, wrists, knees, feet, ankles, and shoulders. The disease usually causes inflammation in the same areas on either side of the body. Symptoms can start slowly over time, or suddenly. Each person’s symptoms could vary. They can include:
Swelling over the joints
Stiffness, particularly in the morning
Pain that gets worse with joint movement
Tiredness and fatigue (lack of energy)
Trouble performing activities of daily living, like buttoning shirts, tying shoes, or opening jars
Trouble pinching or gripping things
Bumps over the small joints
These symptoms could be similar to other health conditions. Always see your orthopaedist or doctor for a diagnosis.
How is rheumatoid arthritis diagnosed?
Diagnosing RA might be a little difficult in the early stages. Symptoms could be very mild, and signs of the disease might not even be seen in blood tests or on X-rays. Your orthopaedist will have a look at your health history and give you a physical exam. You may require tests such as:
Joint aspiration : This test requires a small fluid sample to be taken from a swollen joint. It is done in order to look for signs of gout or infection.
X-ray : This test uses a tiny amount of radiation to develop images of organs, internal tissues, and bones onto film.
Blood tests : These tests are conducted to find certain antibodies known as cyclic citrullinated antibodies, rheumatoid factor, and other signs of RA.
Nodule biopsy : Tiny tissue samples are taken to observe under a microscope. This helps in checking for cancer or other abnormal cells.
Ultrasound or MRI : These imaging tests are done to look for inflammation and bone damage.
How is rheumatoid arthritis treated?
Treatment mostly depends on your general health, symptoms, and age. It also depends on how severe the condition is.
Currently, there is no known cure for RA. The aim of the treatment is generally to limit inflammation and pain, and help you retain function. You may have 1 or more types of treatments recommended to you. Treatments may include:
Medicines. Some medicines can be used to treat inflammation or for pain relief. Other types of medicines may help in slowing the disease from getting worse. Early treatment can help in slowing the progression of the disease. Medicines should be managed by a rheumatologist, specialising in rheumatic diseases and arthritis. You may require regular blood tests to check how the medicines are affecting your kidneys, blood cells, and liver.
Splints. Splints may be used in order to help in protecting the joints and strengthening weak joints.
Physical therapy. Physical therapy can be used to help increase the movement and strength of the affected areas.
In a few cases, you may require surgery if other treatments fail. Although surgery does not cure RA, it helps in correcting the deformities caused by the disease. RA can still cause problems after surgery. You may even require more surgery. Joint reconstruction or repair can be done in many ways, including:
Surgical cleaning. This surgery helps in removing diseased and inflamed tissues in the hands in order to help increase function.
Joint replacement (arthroplasty). This type of surgery can be utilised in cases of severe arthritis of the hand. It can also be done on older adults who are not very active. Joint replacement may help increase joint function and reduce pain. During the surgery, a joint that has been destroyed by the disease gets replaced with an artificial joint. The new joint could be made out of silicone rubber, metal, or plastic. Or it can even be made from your own tissue, like a tendon from another part of your body.
Joint fusion. For this type of surgery, a joint is first removed, and then the 2 ends of bones are fused together. This makes it 1 large bone without a joint. This is often done on people with advanced RA. The fused joint cant move after the bone fusion.
What are possible complications of Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Since RA damages joints with time, it results in some disability. It can cause pain and also lead to movement problems. You might be less able to do your normal daily tasks and activities. That can lead to problems like anxiety and depression.
RA might also have an effect on many non-joint parts of the body, like the blood vessels, lungs, nerves, heart, skin, kidneys, and muscles. These complications could lead to severe illness, and in some cases even death.
Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis
Currently, the cure for RA is unknown. But it is crucial to help keep your joints in good condition by reducing inflammation and pain. Work on a treatment plan with your orthopaedist that includes physical therapy and medicine. Try also to work on lifestyle changes that may improve your quality of life. Lifestyle changes include:
Getting regular rest and activity : To decrease any kind of stress on your joints, switch between rest and activity. It can help in protecting your joints and also ease your symptoms.
Using assistive devices : Crutches, canes, and walkers may help in keeping stress off certain joints and also improve balance.
Using adaptive equipment : Grabbers and Reachers allow you to extend your reach while also reducing straining. Dressing aids can also help you get dressed more easily.
Managing use of medicines : Medicines for this condition have a few risks. Work with your orthopaedist or doctor to create a plan to reduce this risk.
Seeking support : Find a good support group that can assist you in dealing with the effects of RA.
It is best if you can detect the symptoms early and start treatment to avoid severe damage, pain and discomfort. If you’d like to know the best tips to follow if you're dealing with arthritis, or would be interested to know how our expert orthopaedics at 1 Health Medical Centre can help you in your journey please call on +91 9562090606 to book an appointment.
If you are dealing with pain related to Arthritis, or if you are worried about developing it, especially if you’re obese or overweight, our team of experienced Rheumatologists at 1 Health Medical Centre can help you get through your suffering.
Stop procrastinating and get started on your journey to achieving a healthier weight and better overall health. Call 1 Health Medical Centre, today!