September 13 2021
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune, chronic, and inflammatory disease and affects the joints throughout the body. The pain in the joints usually happens on both sides of the body in rheumatoid arthritis. For example, if a joint in the left leg is affected by rheumatoid arthritis, then, the same joint in the right leg will get affected too, this is the main point of differentiation used by doctors to detect this condition. In some cases, this disease may even damage organs like the eyes, lungs, heart, and blood vessels. Rheumatoid arthritis is seen to affect the lining of the joints which causes swelling and pain, and usually results in bone erosion and joint deformity.
Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
Some of the commonly observed symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are:
- Tiredness and swelling in joints.
- Stiffness in the joints in the morning.
- Tender and warm joint area.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects smaller joints (for example, the joints that attach the fingers to the palm) in the early stages. As this condition worsens, these symptoms tend to spread to different parts of the body like ankles, elbows, hips, shoulders, etc. Some people who have rheumatoid arthritis also have symptoms in other parts of the body, that don’t involve joints. These nonjoint parts include skin, lungs, heart, blood vessels, bone marrow, salivary glands, and eyes. The symptoms of this condition depend on the severity and in some cases; they keep on coming and going. The symptoms occur in the periods called exacerbations or flares and disappear fully in periods of remission. It is advised to see a doctor if experiencing any such symptoms or discomfort in the joints.
Risk factors of rheumatoid arthritis
- Smoking: People who are regularly smoking are at a higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, and these chances increase more if the person has a genetic predisposition for developing it. Also, smoking may worsen this condition in some cases.
- Obesity: People who are obese are at a higher risk of rheumatoid arthritis, especially women who are 55 or younger than that.
- Age: rheumatoid arthritis usually affects middle-aged people. However, it can affect people at any age.
- Genetic factors: if someone has a family history of this condition, then the person is at a higher risk of developing it.
- Sex: studies suggest that women are more likely to get affected by rheumatoid arthritis as compared to men.
- Environmental factors: some environmental exposures can shockingly increase the risk of rheumatoid arthritis. For example, emergency workers who are exposed to dust particles are at a higher risk of developing this disease.
Causes of rheumatoid arthritis
Since rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, a person develops it when his/ her immune system attacks the synovium (the membrane lining surrounding the joints). This attack results in inflammation and thickening of the synovium, leading to damaged cartilage and bones. During this, even the ligaments and tendons (structures that hold the joint in its position) tend to get weak and stretch from their original position which causes it to lose its shape.
Complications of rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is a condition that sometimes increases the risk of other health conditions like:
- Abnormal composition of the body: rheumatoid arthritis causes an abnormal proportion of fat to the lean mass. Even with normal levels of BMI (body mass index), this proportion may be higher in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
- Rheumatoid nodules: these nodules are firm bumps made up of tissues, which are formed around the pressure points.
- Osteoporosis: The bones in our body have small spaces within them, as a part of their structure. However, sometimes, these spaces become enlarged; such a condition is known as osteoporosis. Although bones constantly break down and replace themselves, during osteoporosis, the creation of new bones stops. Rheumatoid arthritis can increase the risk of developing this condition.
- Dry eye or mouth: Sjogren’s syndrome, which is a disorder associated with a decreased amount of moisture in the eyes and mouth of the affected person, is more likely to happen in people who have rheumatoid arthritis.
- Infections: rheumatoid arthritis and the medications used to treat it can weaken the functioning of the immune system, which increases the risk of infections in the body.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome: when rheumatoid arthritis affects the wrists of a person, it may even compress the nerves that perform the main functions in fingers and hands.
- Lymphoma: a lymphoma is a group of blood cancers that are developed in the lymph system of the human body. Rheumatoid arthritis may put an affected person at a higher risk of this cancer.
- Lung and heart diseases: inflammation which is associated with rheumatoid arthritis can cause heart and lung problems, for example, the inflammation in blood vessels increases the risk of hard and blocked arteries.
Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis
There is no actual cure for rheumatoid arthritis. However, some treatments can help prevent some symptoms and manage the condition. The treatments include dietary changes, medications, exercises (specific), and home remedies. Usually, the doctor works on finding out the best possible way to manage the medical needs of the patient along with this treatment. NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), corticosteroids, and acetaminophen are some of the over-the-counter medications used to reduce pain and inflammation of the joints.
Low impact exercises can enhance the motion of the joints in the body, resulting in increased mobility. Exercises can strengthen muscles and may also relieve pressure from the joints. Sleep and rest are also important in decreasing inflammation, as, the joints need some rest to get rid of pain and inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
Dietary changes are one of the most effective ways to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Since omega-3 fatty acids have excellent anti-inflammatory properties, it is highly advised to consume them regularly. Foods high in these fatty acids are fatty fish like salmon and tuna, chia seeds, flax seeds, and walnuts. People who can’t directly consume these foods can also opt for supplements like alvizia’s alenfish or fish oil supplement.
Antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin A, and vitamin E are also effective in relieving inflammation. Foods that have antioxidant content are spinach, kidney beans, dark chocolates, berries, and artichokes. Foods that contain flavonoids, like broccoli, grapes, green tea, soy, berries, etc, also help in the prevention of rheumatoid arthritis.