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Rheumatoid ArthritisRheumatoid Arthritis: Causes, Risk Factors, Symptoms, and Treatments

Commonly asked questions about rheumatoid arthritis

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

The Arthritis Foundation states that rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a form of autoimmune disease where the body mistakenly attacks the joints. This attack creates inflammation that causes the tissues lining the inside of joints to thicken and cause swelling and pain. If the inflammation goes unchecked it can cause damage to the cartilage and bones. As RA progresses it can cause joints to become loose, unstable and painful, as well as lose their mobility. Joint deformity can also occur, and once the joint damage has been done it can not be reversed.

What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means it is caused by an abnormality in the immune system. Doctors are still unsure what causes the abnormality to make the immune system attack its own cells. However, they do speculate that it has something to do with genes, hormones and environmental factors.

What Risk Factors are Associated with Rheumatoid Arthritis?

The Mayo Clinic has put together a list of risk factors that may increase your chances of getting rheumatoid arthritis.

Risk FactorsDescription 
GenderWomen are more likely to develop RA than men.
AgeRA can occur at any age; however, it is most common between the ages of 40-60.
Family HistoryIf a member of your family has been diagnosed with RA then you may be at an increased chance for developing it as well.
SmokingSmoking increases your risk of developing RA, especially if you have a family history of developing the disease. Smoking is also shown to be associated with greater disease severity.
Environmental ConditionsAlthough uncertain and poorly understood, some exposures such as asbestos or silica may increase the risk for developing RA.
ObesityPeople who are overweight or obese are at an increased risk of developing RA.

What are the Signs/Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid Arthritis can be very difficult to detect and diagnose. Because of its slow progression early symptoms are often very subtle. Every patient will experience different symptoms and some will show no symptoms at all. Flare-ups are common and can last for months. During the early stages of RA you may experience fatigue as well as stiffness/tenderness of the joints. RheumatoidArthritis.org states that there are many different symptoms that can afflict someone with RA. The most common are:

  • Swelling: Tissue in the caps of joints become damaged in people afflicted with RA, causing the tissue to thicken and swell.
  • Stiffness:  When joints become inflamed they can become stiff and difficult to move properly. Those suffering from RA may experience stiff joints, especially after long periods of rest.
  • Pain: The muscles, ligaments and tendons that are used to support joints will become weak over time and become unable to stabilize them. This causes severe pain and irreparable joint damage.
  • Redness:  Joints may become warm and appear pink or red, on the outside of the afflicted area when inflamed.

Is Rheumatoid Arthritis Curable?

No, as of right now there is no definite cure for rheumatoid arthritis. Even though there may not be a cure there are studies that have shown a healthy diet, stress management, proper rest and regular exercise can help improve symptoms.

What Drugs/Medications are used to Treat Rheumatoid Arthritis?

The Cleveland Clinic states that there are three main groups of drugs that are used to help treat rheumatoid arthritis;

  • Drugs that decrease pain and inflammation: Drugs such as Tylenol provide relief of the signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARD): Are used to slow the disease process by modifying the immune system.
  • Biologics: Compared to the traditional DMARDs, Biologics target the molecules that cause inflammation in RA. The biologic agents cut down the inflammatory process that ultimately causes the joint damage seen in RA. Biologics are generally considered to be more effective than DMARDs.

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View Sources

  1. Arthritis Foundation – What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
  2. Mayo Clinic – Rheumatoid Arthritis
  3. RheumatoidArthritis.org – What is Rheumatoid Arthritis? 
  4. Cleveland Clinic – Disease & Conditions

Resources

 

Emery P, Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis, 2006, British Medical Journal, Volume 332

Weinblatt M, Keystone E, Furst D, Moreland L, Weisman M, Birbara C, Teoh L, Fischkoff S, Chartach E, Adalimimab, a Fully Human Anti-Tumor Necrosis Factor a Monoclonal Antibody, for the Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis in Patients Taking Concomitant Methotrexate: The ARMADA trial, 2003, TOC, Volume 48(1), 35-45