Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which can affect anyone at any age, although it most often manifests in people in their 40s and it is three times more common in women than in men. If you’ve just seen your doctor and you’ve been identified as having rheumatoid arthritis, you might be wondering what has caused it, what the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are and how do these symptoms progress, how to treat this condition and what to expect from the different types of treatment methods available. Or perhaps you might even wonder what is rheumatoid arthritis to begin with. But no matter whether you’ve just been clinically diagnosed or you’ve been suffering from RA for years, there are many ways you can help yourself!
What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Arthritis means inflammation of the joints and rheumatoid arthritis – otherwise known as RA – is a common form of arthritis. RA is an autoimmune disease, where the body’s own immune system attacks the lining of the joints (synovium), particularly the joints of the hands, wrists or feet, however it can also occur in other parts of the body. This results in inflammation, swelling, stiffness, warm joints, pain and in severe cases even loss of function. The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis develop as the sensory nerves of the affected joints are irritated by the chemicals produced by the inflammation and the stretching of the outer part of the synovium by the swollen joint.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Prognosis
Scientists have not yet determined exactly what causes this painful joint inflammation. However what is known is that if untreated, this autoimmune disease can potentially affect and damage your cartilage, ligaments and in severe cases even the bone itself within your joint. RA may also affect your tendons, and in certain cases also several other body parts, such as the blood vessels, eyes or lungs. Lumps, called rheumatoid nodules may occur in elbows, hands and feet. Patients with rheumatoid arthritis are also more at risk of cardiovascular disease.
The Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
In the majority of cases the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis will develop progressively and gradually over several months. The disease is characterized by recurrent, moderate attacks and as the disease advances, the frequency and the intensity of the symptoms will increase.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms to Look Out For
There are several extra-articular (“outside of the joints”) rheumatoid arthritis symptoms to look out for:
- morning stiffness
- feeling hot and sweaty
- pain and swelling around the joints
- a general feeling of being unwell
- feeling depressed or irritable
- unexplained weight loss
- dry, irritable eyes
The frequency and severity of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms are variable. Some people have the mild form of the disease with few symptoms. Most people experience periodic flare-ups when their joints become more painful and inflamed. Such flare-ups may last for weeks, months or even years, but are often followed by better spells. For a few people rheumatoid arthritis becomes progressively worse quite quickly. If you experience any of the above rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, please visit your doctor for a thorough evaluation.