Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation of the lining of the joints which can destroy cartilage and bone which then deforms the affected joints. Over time it can often affect the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, and blood as well.
Although anyone can get it, it usually appears between the ages of thirty to sixty, it affects women more than men and about one percent of the population has been diagnosed with it.
Symptoms of joint inflammation from RA include pain, warmth, and swelling. It is common to occur on both sides of the body at the same time such as both knees or wrist. Other symptoms are joint stiffness especially after inactivity, continued fatigue with a low - grade fever. Symptoms may appear rapidly for some while it may develop gradually over the years for others.
As mentioned earlier it may also affect other parts of the body and the following is a brief description of how it may do so.
* Skin may have lumps of tissue that form under the skin, often over bony areas exposed to pressure such as fingers or elbows.
* Vasculitis or RA – related inflammation of the blood vessels causes a rash of small red dots on the skin. In severe cases, vasculitis can cause skin ulcers on the legs or under the nails.
* If inflammation is chronic it may lead to loss of bone density around the joints and throughout the body causing thin, brittle bones.
* Inflammation of the white of the eye or scleritis can lead to scarring. Symptoms of scleritis are a pain, redness, blurred vision, and light sensitivity.
* Uveitis is inflammation of the area between the retina and the white of the eye and may cause blindness.
* Sjogren’s syndrome occurs when the inflammatory process that affects the joints also damage the tear-producing glands causing the eyes to feel dry and gritty.
* Inflammation can damage the moisture - producing glands resulting in dry mouth.
* As much as eighty percent of those with RA have some lung issue that may not cause symptoms but severe, prolonged inflammation of the lung tissue can form pulmonary fibrosis which makes breathing difficult.
* Atherosclerosis and pericarditis are common causes of chronic inflammation of the heart lining and can damage the endothelial cells that line the blood vessels. Heart attack and stroke occur from damaged blood vessels breaking due to plaques breaking off and blocking a vessel.
* Unchecked inflammation may lead to reduction in the red blood cells causing anemia.
* Although Felty syndrome is rare, a long - term RA may develop an enlarged spleen and low white blood cell count, which may also cause an increased risk of infection and lymphoma (cancer of the lymph glands).
There is not a single test for RA but your doctor may perform blood tests to check for signs of inflammation in the body or test for rheumatoid factor and anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide which is common for those with RA.
Imaging test such as x-rays, MRI and ultrasound can help with diagnosing RA by providing a baseline for comparison or to look for joint damage and inflammation.
At this time, there is no cure for RA but treatment can lower joint inflammation and pain and prevent joint damage to keep your joints working. Exercise is necessary to strengthen the muscles around the joints so staying as active as possible is beneficial Try gentle exercises such as stretching, resistance training, low- impact aerobics (swimming, water aerobics).
Medication and sometimes surgery is an option but there are other ways many people get relief such as using moist heat, acupuncture, supplements such as fish oil, borage seed oil and cat’s claw. Always check with your doctor before using supplements since they may cause side effects and interact with your medications negatively.
Diet may help when staying away from foods high in saturated fats like red meats and fried foods since they may raise inflammation in the body. Tomatoes, citrus fruits, white potatoes, peppers, dairy, coffee, sugar, refined flour, gluten, alcohol and processed foods have also been known to worsen the symptoms of RA. Meanwhile, Omega -3 fatty acids such as salmon, tofu, and walnuts have been known to be helpful. Other ingredients to incorporate in your diet are coriander, turmeric, ginger, pineapple, and green tea.
As always, consult with your physician when making major changes in your diet whether it is supplements or food since they may interfere with any medication you are taking. Exercise is always a plus but make sure the exercise you are interested in is compatible with what your body can handle so ask your doctor before beginning a new regimen of any kind.
To learn more about RA, check out the references below.