A comprehensive list of today's common ailments and health conditions.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

By Angela Young

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which causes severe inflammation of the joints. While most people associate rheumatoid arthritis with inflammation of the joints, but rheumatoid arthritis can also cause inflammation of the tissues around the joints and various organs in the body. Some physicians and scientists refer to rheumatoid arthritis as rheumatoid disease because it can impact so many parts of the body.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease. Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis typically get worse as the length of time since the diagnoses increases. However, some people experience periods of time where they experience few if any side effects from the disease. Typically rheumatoid arthritis continues to wreak havoc on a person's body and can lead to joint destruction and functional disability.

Nearly 1.3 million people in America suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the most common autoimmune diseases. Rheumatoid arthritis is much more common in women than it is in men. Rheumatoid arthritis affects all races and seems to develop most commonly between the ages of 40 and 60. Rheumatoid arthritis also seems to run in families, which suggests that people may be genetically predisposed to developing the disease.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms

A flare is what people call an episode or period of time when a person who has rheumatoid arthritis is experiencing symptoms of the disease. How rheumatoid arthritis affects a patient and the amount of flares and remissions vary in frequency and length.

When the disease is active, symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include swelling of the joints, pain and stiffness of the joints, redness, muscle tenderness, low-grade fever, lack of appetite and fatigue.

Small joints of the hands, wrists and feet are the most susceptible to symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. The impact to these small joints can make activities of daily living difficult. When rheumatoid arthritis becomes more symptomatic of rheumatoid disease the large joints and tissues that surround them show symptoms.

Symptoms of rheumatoid disease include inflammation of the glands, which manifests itself as dryness of the eyes and mouth. Inflammation of the lungs from rheumatoid arthritis typically causes chest pain, difficulty breathing and coughing. In extreme cases vasculitis develops. Vasculitis is the inflammation of the blood vessels due to rheumatoid arthritis. Vasculitis can lead to death.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Causes

Like most autoimmune diseases, scientists do not know the cause of rheumatoid arthritis. However, there are some commonalities in those that develop rheumatoid arthritis such as a family history or environmental factors that seem to play a role. There is also some evidence that shows cigarette smoking increases the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosis

A rheumatologist is a doctor specializing in arthritis and associated diseases. A rheumatologist diagnoses a patient after several visits and thorough interviews that include learning about the patient's medical history, family history and symptoms. In additions there are several tests that can help a doctor diagnose the disease. Tests include several different types of blood tests, a test that looks for the presence of citrulline antibodies, which are common in people who have rheumatoid arthritis and various scans such as x-rays, MRI's and bone density tests.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment

There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. Medications can treat the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and can also promote remission of the disease.

First-line drugs are fast acting drugs that work to ease the symptoms that the patient suffers from when they have a rheumatoid arthritis flare. First-line drugs are usually anti-inflammatory medications and pain medications. Second-line drugs are slower acting drugs. The slower acting drugs work to help the patient into remission and help to prevent progressive joint destruction. Most patients take both forms of medications because the second-line drugs do not treat the inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis.

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