What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is a medical condition wherein there is pain and swelling of the joints such as that found in the hands, feet and wrists. It can also bring about damage to other parts of the body. Rheumatoid arthritis can bring about a feeling of fatigue and ill-feeling. The symptoms may vary over time and may range from mild to severe. There may be severe pain and difficulty in movement and in the performance of everyday tasks. The symptoms may develop gradually, at first affecting the small joints such as the fingers and toes and later on affecting large joints such as the shoulders and the knees. There may also be accompanying muscle stiffness even early in the course of the disease.
Pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis is often throbbing and aching which is often worse during mornings or after periods of inactivity. Pain is not felt after activity but while resting. There may also be stiffness of the joints especially in the morning and may last for even an hour. There may also be warmth and redness in the affected joint; this may be due to inflammation and may cause the joints to swell and become hot, tender to touch and painful. Rheumatoid arthritis can also cause inflammation around the joints, such as rheumatoid nodules, and in other parts of the body. It can cause inflammation of the tear glands, salivary glands, the lining of the heart and lungs, and the blood vessels.
The condition may affect anyone but it is most common among women and among those who are within the age range of 40 to 70 years old. The cause of it unknown yet it is considered to be an autoimmune disease, which is caused by the immune system attacking the cells that line your joints, making them swollen, stiff and painful. Over time, this can damage the joint itself, the cartilage and nearby bone. The attack is usually on the synovium, a thin membrane of cells that line the joints. The attack of the immune system can cause inflammation which can lead to the release of chemicals that further thicken the synovium and bring damage to the bones, tendons, ligaments and cartilage. These chemicals that make the joint lose its normal shape and alignment and thus can lead to its destruction.
Rheumatoid arthritis often runs in families. It is caused by faulty genes which are passed down from one generation to another. It may also be due to hormones; this may be the reason why this condition is more common in women than men. Rheumatoid arthritis may be due to the effects of estrogen which is a hormone predominant among females. Estrogen may be involved in the development and progression of the condition. Other risk factors for this condition include tobacco smoking and too much alcohol consumption.
There is no real treatment for rheumatoid arthritis; medications may be given to relieve symptoms or slow progress of the condition while surgery may be done to correct joint problems. Supportive treatments may be given such as physiotherapy, massage or acupuncture. If untreated, rheumatoid arthritis may give rise to complications such as carpal tunnel syndrome and inflammation of other areas of the body such as the lungs, heart and eyes.
Rheumatoid Arthritis and Heart Disease
A recent study has shown that patients with rheumatoid arthritis can twice as likely as the average person to develop heart problems. To better pinpoint rheumatoid arthritis patients’ heart disease risk, an international team that includes Mayo researchers has created a heart disease risk calculator tailored to rheumatoid arthritis. This new method is the Transatlantic Cardiovascular Risk Calculator for Rheumatoid Arthritis, or ATACC-RA, which is said to be more effective for rheumatoid arthritis patients than standard heart disease risk calculators such as the Framingham and SCORE risk assessment tools. For example, of 314 rheumatoid arthritis patients studied who eventually developed heart problems, Framingham classified 54 percent, or 168 people, as high risk; ATACC-RA identified 201, or 64 percent, as high risk. The researchers involved in the creation of this calculator are experts from all over the world.
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