Did You Know? – Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is one of the common diseases, and sadly, there is not much of a progression to control it to date.  Nevertheless, it is useful to read the facts and findings about the disease to have an awareness.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a type of autoimmune disease that causes severe and painful inflammation in the joints which can spread out and cause damages to the organs of your body. It happens when the immune system mistakenly attack and destroy their own system. RA is the general term for arthritis while the other conditions are called osteoarthritis and gout.

RA usually affects joints on both sides of the body equally. Wrists, fingers, knees, feet, and ankles are the most commonly affected.  The disease often begins slowly, usually with only minor joint pain, stiffness, and fatigue.

Joint symptoms may include:

  • Morning stiffness, which lasts more than 1 hour, is common. Joints may feel warm, tender, and stiff when not used for an hour.
  • Joint pain is often felt on the same joint on both sides of the body.
  • Over time, joints may lose their range of motion and may become deformed.
Other symptoms include:
  • Chest pain when taking a breath (pleurisy)
  • Dry eyes and mouth (Sjogren syndrome)
  • Eye burning, itching and discharge
  • Nodules under the skin (usually a sign of more severe disease)
  • Numbness, tingling, or burning in the hands and feet
  • Sleep difficulties

About 1% of the world's population is afflicted by rheumatoid arthritis, women three times more often than men. Onset is most frequent between the ages of 40 and 50, but people of any age can be affected.

Rheumatoid arthritis occurs less commonly in Black-Caribbeans than in Whites. The findings are consistent with published studies showing a low RA prevalence in rural African Black populations.

However, a report by http://www.clinexprheumatol.org/article.asp?a=2205 has this to say about the statement above.

“For a variety of reasons, the vast majority of clinical research in RA has been performed on Caucasian populations. Many studies have originated in the United Kingdom or other parts of Europe that often include small populations of African descent. Historically, African-Americans have been more reluctant than Caucasians to participate in clinical research. Thus, African-Americans have been under-represented in established RA cohorts.”

An interesting finding also revealed an increased prevalence of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) has been reported in several American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) populations.

The causes and factors of this disease are still unknown and though the possible factors, such as environmental and biological triggers, are still suspected they are yet to be proved. Nevertheless, age often plays a prime role in causing RA and probability of its occurrence increases above the age of 60. It is believed that rheumatoid arthritis is genetically linked – certain genes have been identified to increase the susceptibility to the disease; like STAT4.

(NOTE: Studies have associated a normal variation in the STAT4 gene with an increased risk of several autoimmune disorders. Autoimmune disorders occur when the immune system malfunctions and attacks the body's tissues and organs. These disorders include systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjögren syndrome http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/gene/STAT4) and TRAF-C5 (NOTE: …. immune-related genes thought to be closely involved in the onset and/or perpetuation of the inflammatory process).  

The symptoms come and go, depending on the severity of the inflammation in the tissues and joints. As the inflammation subsides, the disease becomes inactive and you eventually feel well about yourself. Reoccurrence is likely (called ‘flare’) and can last from weeks to years. Symptoms include loss of energy, lack of appetite, aches and stiffness in muscles and joints, causing them to become red and swollen (prominent in morning and after an active session).

To date, there is no exact cure for rheumatoid arthritis except to alleviate the pain with over-the-counter products and reduce the inflammation at the joints, thus maximizing their function and mobility, and avoiding deformity. But since the turn of the century, research and general awareness of the disease is growing due to increase of its prevalence among the elderly as well as the increase in the elderly population in general.

Surgery may be the last resort after all known treatments and therapies are done to repair damaged joints. Joint replacement surgery is also possible to replace the damaged joint with artificial materials such as plastic and metals.

Until now, there are no specific preventive measures to avoid rheumatoid arthritis. Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis is very much varied depending on the condition and the severity of the pain thus an accurate diagnosis is crucial. In fact, it has been proven that early diagnosis is crucial to ensure proper care from the effects of this disease.

The same thing also goes for the diet. Being a life-changing disease, there is no exact ‘diet plan’ to cure rheumatoid arthritis. Fish oil, ginger, turmeric and beans have been shown in several studies to be beneficial as short-term measures in treating rheumatoid arthritis. And in case you are a smoker and a patient of RA at the same time, its time to say no to smoking as it often worsen the symptoms and add to your sufferings. A regular work out is also useful to improve and maintain the mobility for the joints and strengthening the muscles surrounding the joints. Doctors often suggest light strength training and physical therapy with an objective to boost stamina as well as flexibility.

Having this kind of disease is very much like having a partner, albeit invisibly. Having a patient with RA often make situations tough for the family, especially during socialising and travelling. Being a life-changing experience, you need to adjust nearly every aspect of your life and have all support that you can get from families and friends.

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