Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 October 2009 13:55
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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic ailment and is the most common form of arthritis.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Overview, Symptoms and Causes
All ages, and social and ethnic groups are susceptible with a peak incidence between the ages of 40-50 years. Women patients outnumber the men by a ratio of 2.5 to 1. Altogether, between a quarter and half a million people in the UK suffer from rheumatoid arthritis.
What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful condition of the joints in which the patient suffers from pain, stiffness, and swelling, and experiences difficulty in moving the affected joints.
Classified as an autoimmune condition, the precise cause behind rheumatoid arthritis is unknown. Genetic predisposition is believed to play a major role in its development.
Rheumatoid Arthritis results in pain, stiffness, swelling, and limitation in the function of multiple joints, most commonly the small joints of the hands and feet. Other organs may, however, also be affected.
Most common treatments
While there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, it can be treated by administering drugs, physical therapy, alleviating stress, or through surgery. All of these help to relieve pain and swelling, and limit rapid progression of the disease, thus preventing the joints from wearing out. With treatment, many people with this disease continue to lead normal, active lives.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms
Rheumatoid Arthritis usually begins slowly, with symmetrical involvement of multiple joints, usually the small joints of the hands and feet. Larger joints like those of the shoulders, hips, and knees are less commonly involved. Affected joints become painful, swollen and stiff; early morning stiffness is typical. The vertebrae of the neck may be involved in people with a long history of the disease. Wasted muscles, ruptured tendons and deformed feet and hands may eventually result from this condition.
One may also feel tired, develop occasional fevers, and suffer from a general sense of ill health. All these symptoms can make day-to-day activities difficult.
Multiple organ systems and musculoskeletal structures may also be involved, thus complicating the management of the disease. Anaemia, or a deficiency of red blood cells, is commonly associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
Most patients experience a periodic flare up of their disease, interspersed with intervals of symptomatic relief resulting from treatment.
Rheumatoid ArthritisÃ‚Â CausesÃ‚Â
The causes of rheumatoid arthritis are unknown. It is classified as an autoimmune disease, which means that your immune system, along with staving off infections caused by bacteria and viruses, also begins attacking your joints. This abnormal activity of the immune system is believed to result from a variety of factors. These include heredity, hormones (explaining why more women are affected by it than men are), and possibly, infection by a bacterium or virus. Genetic predisposition, a strong factor, makes certain individuals more susceptible to the disease.
The primary target of the process of inflammation is the synovium Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a thin layer of tissue that lines your joints and tendon sheaths. Inflammatory chemicals released by immune cells cause irritation and thickening of the synovium, leading to swelling and damage of cartilage and bone. Over time, this causes deformed joints and altered joint function.