Disease Research

Demystifying Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis, also known as RA, is an autoimmune disorder that affects the joints in the entire body as well as causes the body to attack itself with the inability to stop. RA is a severe and debilitating inflammation of the bones and cartilage.

Initially, RA affects both sides of the body symmetrically in the hands, arms, and legs. As the condition progresses, it can begin to cause problems with the heart, lungs, skin and blood vessels.

What causes RA?

The exact cause of RA is unknown, but based on research and collection of data; it is more prevalent in women than men. Genetics don’t individually play a role in RA but can create catalysts that are triggered once a bacteria or virus enters the body.  This triggers the body’s immune system to react and begins to attack healthy tissues.

Research has shown the following risk factors also to be a cause of RA:

  • Age
  • A family history of RA
  • Environments with exposure to toxic chemicals
  • Gender
  • Overweight
  • Smoking habits

What are the symptoms?

RA typically affects the joints in the body such as elbows, feet, hips, jaw, knees, neck, shoulders, and wrists. Joints may become swollen, red and stiff with varying levels of pain and tenderness at the site. The condition is usually diagnosed by way of symmetrical pain in both joints on each side of the body such as both wrists, both feet and so on.

Is there a cure?

No cure exists for RA, but its symptoms and complications can be treated with medication and therapy.

The goal of medication therapy is to help alleviate the inflammation and pain, promote normal functioning as well as prevent further damage to the joints and cartilage. The medication regimen will be lifelong, requires close monitoring of blood values via labs, and frequent visits with a rheumatologist.

What are the typical medications?

Physicians have their preference, but generally, all treatments are the same due to evidence-based research showing positive outcomes and successful procedures. Typical medications are NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) to treat pain and inflammation, and steroids and/or DMARDs (disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs) to help prevent further deterioration.

Physicians will also usually recommend physical and occupational therapy to ensure continuous movement in the joints as well as retaining a full range of motion.

If medications and therapy are ineffective, then your physician may resort to surgical methods for joint repair to alleviate pain. Possible procedures are as follows:

  • Synovectomy – removal of the inflamed lining of the joint, typically performed on knees, elbows, wrists, fingers, and hips.
  • Tendon Repair – tendons can become loose or even tear, surgery can repair them to be stronger and hold joints together
  • Joint Fusion – when a joint becomes misaligned due to severe cartilage damage, fusing the bones together will help stabilize the joint
  • Total Joint Replacement – this surgery is usually last resort if the joint is too damaged for repair. The surgeon will remove the natural joint, and prosthesis will take its place.