What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid Arthritis is a long-term autoimmune disease affecting the joints by causing pain, stiffness and swelling. It means that, rather than defending from bacteria and viruses, your body’s natural defence system is attacking your joints by mistake.
It mostly affects hands, elbows, knees, ankles and feet (usually both side of the body at the same time) and can damage the joint itself and the cartilage over time.
580,000 people are said to be suffering from this condition in England, women being the most affected (three times more than men). They also specify that it most commonly starts between 40 and 50 years old.
What are the symptoms?
As mentioned earlier, the most known symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis consist of:
Aching pain in the joints which tends to get worse after a period of inactivity.
Stiffness which may prevent someone from bending their fingers for example.
Swelling, warmth and redness which sometimes result in an inflammation.
Flu-like symptoms, unusual tiredness and anaemia.
In some extreme cases, Rheumatoid Arthritis can also affect organs such as lungs, eyes or heart.
It goes without saying that it’s only by combining these symptoms and after undergoing a series of medical exams (it mostly consist of a blood test and an x-ray of the hands or feet) that someone could be diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis by a doctor. Taking into account the extent of damage that it could cause on the patient’s joints, it is important that Rheumatoid Arthritis be diagnosed in its early stages, in order to prevent any permanent damage.
Treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis
The treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis continues through the patient’s life, since there is no existing cure for the condition. However, there are treatments that allow the person to cope with the disease in his/her everyday life.
These treatments aim to:
Slow down the progress of the condition in order to prevent any permanent damage. Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs also called DMARDs are the most common drugs for this aspect.
Reduce the pain and stiffness in the affected parts of the body so the patient won’t have too many difficulties Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be prescribed for that, as well as biologicals medicines.
Prevent associated conditions such as osteoporosis or cardiovascular disease from developing.
Joint replacement surgery might be advised by a specialist in cases where there is a high risk of loss of overall function.
There are also alternative treatments provided by occupational therapists or physiotherapists that aim to allow the patient to keep his/her muscles strong and make the best use of his/her joints.
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