Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic, inflammatory type of arthritis, also classified as an autoimmune disease. The joints are primarily affected by rheumatoid arthritis, though it is possible that there can be systemic effects too, whereby organs are affected.
What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?
The cause of the abnormal autoimmune response associated with rheumatoid arthritis has long been studied, though there is no single cause which has been found. Common theories point to a genetic disposition and triggering event.
Symptoms Associated With Rheumatoid Arthritis:
Primary symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis include joint pain, joint swelling or effusion, joint stiffness, redness and/or warmth near the joint, restricted range of motion as well as morning stiffness which lasts for more than one hour and involves the small bones of the hands and feet, extreme fatigue, rheumatoid nodules and symmetrical joint involvement.
Diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis:
No single laboratory test or x-ray can diagnose rheumatoid arthritis. Rather, to properly diagnose this disease, a combination of test results, a physical examination and patient medical history are needed. Tests which are commonly ordered to help diagnose rheumatoid arthritis include:
• Rheumatoid factor - determining whether an immunoglobulin (antibody) can bind to other antibodies determined by a blood test.
• Erythrocyte sedimentation rate - a blood test which determines nonspecific inflammation in the body.
• C-reactive protein - a blood test that measures the concentration of a special type of protein produced in the liver.
• Anti-CCP test - a test that is able to detect the antibodies against citrullinated proteins, which have a relatively high sensitivity for rheumatoid arthritis.
X-rays and MRIs are also ordered to help with the diagnostic process, as well as throughout the course of the disease to monitor the effectiveness of treatment. The goal of early diagnosis and early treatment is to prevent joint damage.
Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis:
The primary course of traditional treatment for rheumatoid arthritis includes specialized medications. Each individual patient is evaluated by their rheumatologist and a treatment plan is recommended. Along with medication, some forms of complementary treatment or local injections may help relieve pain.
Prevalence of Rheumatoid Arthritis:
About 1.5 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Women tend to be more affected than men - in fact, about 75% of rheumatoid arthritis patients are women. Nevertheless, it can occur in both genders and possibly, in children too. The disease onset for rheumatoid arthritis occurs between 30 and 60 years old.