What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is a fairly common joint disease that affects more than 1 million Europeans. Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the most debilitating forms of arthritis. It can cause pain, deformities, and severe joint stiffness.

Understanding rheumatoid arthritis is important for the patient to be able to manage and cope with the disease.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a form of inflammatory arthritis and an autoimmune disease. For reasons no one fully understands, in rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system – which is designed to protect our health by attacking foreign cells such as viruses and bacteria – instead attacks the body’s own tissues, specifically the synovium, a thin membrane that lines the joints. As a result of the attack, fluid builds up in the joints, causing pain in the joints and inflammation that’s systemic – meaning it can occur throughout the body.

RA causes pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of function in your joints. It can affect any joint but it is common that affects the wrist and fingers.

Rheumatoid arthritis is three times more common in women than in men. It generally strikes between the ages of 20 and 50, but can affect very young children and older adults.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease. Most people with RA experiences intermittent bouts of intense disease activity, called flares. In some people the disease is continuously active and gets worse over time. Others enjoy long periods of remission – no disease activity or symptoms at all. Evidence shows that early diagnosis and intensive treatment to put the disease into remission is the best means of avoiding joint destruction, organ damage and disability.

RA can affect body parts besides joints, such as your eyes, mouth and lungs, because it is an autoimmune disease. Rheumatoid arthritis is very different from osteoarthritis, the common arthritis that often comes with older age, although many people call both diseases the same: arthritis or rheumatism. It is crucial that you have rheumatoid arthritis diagnosed by a trusted professional.

No one knows what causes rheumatoid arthritis. Genes, environment and hormones might contribute. Treatments include medicine, lifestyle changes and surgery. These can slow or stop joint damage and reduce pain and swelling.


Understand the musculoskeletal system to understand arthritis

Picture1.pngThe bones of the body help us to stand up straight and our muscles help our bones move together. Bones connect at the joints. The most obvious joints are the shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees and ankles. We have joints between the various bones of our fingers and toes. We also have joints that allow our vertebrae to move.

A material called cartilage, which keeps the bones from rubbing against each other during motion covers the ends of the bones in a joint. Between the two pieces of cartilage in a joint, there is a little bag lined by special tissue known as synovium. The synovium secretes fluid that helps lubricate the joint. The combination of cartilage and synovium allows for smooth, painless motion in any given joint.


Picture2.pngIn rheumatoid arthritis the synovium is inflamed. This leads to destruction of the synovium as well as the underlying joint. Typically, arthritis leads to pain and restriction of movement of the involved joint. In rheumatoid arthritis, there is usually also swelling, redness and tenderness in the joints.



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