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Rheumatoid Arthritis FAQs

What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Arthritis is a disease which affects the joints and surrounding tissues. Typically, they become inflamed and swollen, making them painful and stiff, which can be much worse after the person has not been moving for long periods of time, for example, first thing in the morning. Without proper treatment, this debilitating condition can leave cartilage (the tissue surrounding the joint) rough and thin, which can eventually lead to further problems with tendons and ligaments and the joint in general.

It is a chronic disease that can last for many years, but patients can go long periods without showing any symptoms. It is a systemic illness, which means it affects a number of organs or tissues, or it can affect the body as a whole. Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disorder that principally attacks the joints, producing an inflammatory synovitis that can result in the destruction of cartilage.

What Are The Causes of RA?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease which means that the body's tissues are mistakenly attacked by their own immune system, causing inflammation and, over time, permanent damage. Although it is unknown why this happens, it is believed that sometimes the disease is genetically inherited. It may also be caused by certain infections or environmental factors. Smoking can also increase the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

What Are The Symptoms Of Rheumatoid Arthritis?

The disease can be very difficult to live with due to the unpredictability of it. Symptoms can come and go, often flaring up but then easing up. When the disease is active, the symptoms can include muscle and joint pain, stiffness, loss of appetite, fatigue and loss of energy, and mild fever. Muscle and joint stiffness is usually most notable in the morning or after long periods of inactivity. During flares, joints can become swollen and red, painful, tender and inflamed. Joints are also often affected in a symmetrical pattern, commonly starting with the small joints in the hands and feet. The chronic inflammation of the condition can cause damage to body tissues, and can lead to loss of cartilage and erosion and weakness of bones, as well as muscles, which can result in joint deformity, destruction and loss of function.

Who Is Affected By This Joint Condition?

Rheumatoid arthritis affects about 1% of the world's population. It has been noted to affect women 3 times more often than men, and the onset of the disease is most frequent between the ages of 40 and 50, but it can affect anyone at any age.

How Can I Manage Rheumatoid Arthritis?

There is no known cure for rheumatoid arthritis but early diagnosis and treatment can slow down the progression of the disease. The three main lines of treatments are as follows:
  • Taking care of your joints: Balancing rest and exercise is important. You should continue to use your joints as much as possible to retain movement and stop muscle wastage. If you do not stay active, your joints will only stiffen and your muscles will waste away. You should, however, avoid contact sports such as football and rugby and instead opt for swimming, as your work all of your muscle groups and the water supports your weight. You should protect your joints from unnecessary strain and adopt methods for doing tasks that put the least amount of strain on your joints.
  • Treatment with drugs: The earlier treatment is started, the more effective it will be. Although side-effects are a common feature of most drugs, the benefits of taking them often far outweigh the side-effects. See below for a list of commonly used drug types.
  • Surgery

What Medicines And Supplements Are Available For Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis?

  • Analgesics (pain killers): The most commonly used pain killer is paracetamol, which can be used alongside codeine. These make the pain more bearable when you are experiencing a flare-up of symptoms.
  • NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs): The first NSAID was aspirin, but there are now about 20 types. They are formulated to reduce pain and swelling within a few hours, with noted side-effects including indigestion and possible bleeding from the stomach. They are available over the counter and are one of the quickest ways of relieving pain and inflammation.
  • DMARDs (disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs): These reduce the effects of the disease. Although they are not painkillers, they do reduce the symptoms of the disease over time. By reducing the underlying rheumatoid process in the joints, they reduce pain and stiffness, especially when taken early on in the disease. According to the Arthritis Research Campaign, they are the most important drugs for combating the disease. They do, however, take weeks or months to become effective.
  • Supplements: Folic Acid is prescribed alongside methotrexate due to the fact most users feel sea sickness in some degree. Folic acid supplements have been found to help reduce symptoms.
    Rheumatoid Arthritis sufferers are often found to be deficient in Vitamin D and require extra vitamin D supplements. There are a number of Vitamin D supplement forms available.
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