inflammatory disease that primarily affects the joints and surrounding tissues.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease wherein the immune system attacks the cells lining the joints, the synovium. Thus stimulated, the linings of the joints become inflamed and secrete more fluid than usual. Over time, the linings of the joints thicken and the process erodes the cartilage, tendons and ligaments of the joint.
The cause of the disease is unknown. An infection, allergy, or hormonal disturbance may initiate the disease process.
Rheumatoid arthritis may occur at any age. It is most likely to occur between 25 to 55 years of age. Women are three times more likely than men to develop rheumatoid arthritis, with the likelihood of developing the disease increasing with age for both sexes About three percent of the population has rheumatoid arthritis.
There is no known way to prevent rheumatoid arthritis. Early treatment may prevent further damage of the joints.
The onset of the disease is usually slow. Most people initially experience fatigue, loss of appetite, weakness, low grade fever, and vague muscular symptoms. Eventually, joint pain appears. The joint will be warm, swollen, and tender. Morning stiffness lasting longer than thirty minutes will occur, as will decreased joint range of movement.
Initially, only a couple of joints are affected. As the disease progress, many other joints are involved. The joints usually are affected in a symmetrical pattern: both sides of the body are affected equally. Rheumatoid arthritis usually affects the hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees and ankles. Occasionally, the hips, jaw and neck may be affected. Joint deformities occur because of destruction to the cartilage and supporting tissues around the bones.
Most medical treatment is centered around reducing inflammation either directly using NSAIDS (advil, naproxen sodium) or by suppressing the immune system using steroids.
A physical therapist can use special machines to apply deep heat or electrical stimulation to reduce pain and improve joint mobility. An occupational therapist can teach how to best protect and use your joints when they are affected by arthritis.