Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy cells in the body, which leads to inflammation. It primarily affects joints mainly in the wrist, hands, and feet and causes pain, swelling, stiffness, and over time can cause joint damage or loss of joint function. It may also affect the other parts of the body like lungs, heart, and blood vessels. Its worldwide prevalence is approximately 1% and occurs mostly in women between the ages of 30 to 60 years, but can also occur in men or children.
The common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are:
- Joint injury
- Swelling and pain in joints
- Loss of function and flexibility in joints
- Morning stiffness
Other symptoms are:
- Poor appetite/weight loss
- Muscle pain
The major complications arising from rheumatoid arthritis are:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome (numbness, tingling, and aching)
- Widespread inflammation (lungs, eyes, blood vessels, and heart)
- Cardiovascular disease (heart attacks and strokes)
- Cervical myelopathy (pressure of spinal cord in the neck)
The exact cause is not clear but the higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis may include:
- Age and gender – Mostly between the ages of 30 to 60 years in women than men
- Genetic factor – If any of the family members has this disorder, a person may have chances of developing rheumatoid arthritis
- Hormones – Testosterone, estrogen, and menopause play an important role in the development of rheumatoid arthritis in women
The different methods to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis are:
- Medical history/physical exam
- Blood tests including complete blood count, rheumatoid factor, anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (CCP), C-reactive protein (CRP), and erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)
- Imaging scans including x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and ultrasound
Prevention Rheumatoid arthritis
Diet plays an important role to prevent a disease or inhibit it from spreading. Similarly, some of the foods to eat and avoid during rheumatoid arthritis include:
- Eat – Beans, cherries, ginger, nuts, whole grains, citrus fruits, turmeric, and fish
- Avoid – Red meat, alcohol, fried food, sugar, and corn oil
The treatment is supportive as there is no definitive cure for rheumatoid arthritis. The treatment approaches available for rheumatoid arthritis are:
For short-term relief
For reducing pain and inflammation, rheumatoid arthritis can be treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen, naproxen, and diclofenac. Steroids like corticosteroids can also be used for quick relief from pain. These medications give temporary relief from pain and reduce swelling but not a cure and often present serious side-effects.
For long-term relief
Healthcare professionals suggest disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) such as methotrexate, sulfasalazine, and hydroxychloroquine, etc as a primary treatment. These drugs act on the immune system and slow down the development of rheumatoid arthritis.
Recently, injectable bioengineered proteins have shown clinical benefits for patients who have rheumatoid arthritis. Moreover, the treatment is beneficial for patients who are in the early stage of disease as the symptoms are delicate.
- Occupational therapy – Patients are guided to use devices, such as splints (rigid or flexible device), to perform regular activities with less pain.
- Mind-body therapies – It includes meditation, breathing exercises, and relaxation. It also helps to improve the strength and flexibility of the body.
- Acupuncture – Poking fine needles at the specific points of skin helps to reduce pain and stiffness.
- Massage – It helps to reduce joints’ stress and pain, improve joint function and ease anxiety.
When medicines or therapies become ineffective, then the joints are repaired through surgery. It involves:
- Joint fusion – Fusion of bone to immobilize a joint
- Synovectomy – Removal of the lining of the joint
- Arthroplasty – Joint replacement using artificial body parts, or prosthetics
- Osteotomy – Cutting and resetting of bone
- Tendon repair