So you’ve been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. That can be a frightening thing, and you certainly have many questions. Let our Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Rheumatoid Arthritis help answer them.
What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder where the body begins to attack its own tissues. This causes chronic inflammation which mainly affects the joints, but can also cause damage to other areas of the body, including the eyes, skin, lungs, blood vessels and heart.
Who gets rheumatoid arthritis?
There appears to be both a genetic and an environmental component to rheumatoid arthritis. People who have family members with RA are at greater risk of developing the disease. Obesity, smoking, and exposure to asbestos or silica may also increase the risk. Most RA sufferers are women over age 40.
How is rheumatoid arthritis different from osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis occurs from age-related, normal wear and tear on the joints. RA is an inflammatory auto-immune disease.
What are the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis?
Symptoms of RA include warm, tender and swollen joints as well as joint stiffness, especially in the mornings. Typically, the smaller joints of the fingers and toes are affected first, with the symptoms eventually spreading to the larger joints. RA can also cause fatigue, fever and weight loss. Symptoms may come and go, appearing in “flares” that may resolve, then come back again. Over time, RA can cause joints to become deformed and may cause additional health problems.
How is rheumatoid arthritis treated?
There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but the symptoms can be managed. Your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications, steroids or disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), depending on the severity of your symptoms. DMARDs, which have revolutionized RA treatment, can slow the progression of the disease and help prevent permanent joint damage and disability.
Physical or occupational therapy can also help to keep your joints flexible. In some cases, surgery can be performed to remove inflamed tissue, repair tendons damaged by RA, fuse joints that cannot be replaced or to permanently replace damaged joints.
What can I do to help my RA?
In addition to the treatments prescribed by your doctor, you can cope with RA by getting regular exercise, managing stress levels, having a pain management plan, and cultivating a lifestyle that includes plenty of rest and respects your limitations. You may find comfort in the emotional support of others who are battling the disease. With today’s treatment options, many people with RA are able to enjoy a full and satisfying life.