Rheumatoid arthritis has taken a step into the spotlight for many during the Winter Olympics. Canadian athlete, Spencer O’Brien (snowboard) has spoken openly about her journey with a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis and how it has affected her life and sport. Debunking the misconception that arthritis, in its many forms, is a disorder of the older persons, her struggle is one that many can relate to on some level.
So what is rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis, also referred to as RA, is an autoimmune disorder, occurring when a person’s immune system attacks its own body systems. Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis does not cause the same type of wear and tear damage to the joints in the same way. The damage inflicted by rheumatoid arthritis is caused by swelling of the linings of the joints of the body. This can result in erosion of the bones and joints and can often cause joint deformation.
It is a chronic, inflammatory disorder that can affect much more than just your joints though. It can have a significant impact on a person’s entire body; including the heart and lungs, circulatory system, skin and eyes. Approximately 40% of people with RA experience symptoms that don’t involve joints.
Gender plays a role in te disorder. More women than men develop rheumatoid arthritis and they tend to be more severely affected by it. They also are more likely to develop the disorder at a younger age.
Genetics may be a factor. If you have a family member with RA, you are at a higher risk for developing it yourself. however, the science is still out on whether there is a specific genetic cause for the disorder. A genetic predisposition to sensitivity of certain environmental factors, such as viral or bacterial infections which are suspected to trigger the disorder, can play a role in your risk factor.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Depending on what areas of the body are affected primarily, the symptoms do vary but generally include the following:
– Swollen joints that may also be warm and tender
– Stiffness and reduced range of motion in your joints; especially after inactivity or in the morning
– fever, fatigue, weight loss
The symptoms tend to start in the smaller joints and spread to larger joint areas over time as the disorder progresses. Symptoms may almost seem to come and go and be in flare ups rather than being consistent and progressive in intensity.
Your physician may use a number of diagnostic tools to assist in determining if you have RA. Blood tests, imaging tests and a physical examination of symptomatic areas are a few tools that are used.
While there is currently no cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis, early diagnosis and aggressive treatment can be highly successful at reducing the impact this disorder can have.
The goal of treatment is remission: achieving a state where the activity of the disease is low or even gone. The earlier that treatment is started, the more that remission can be attained.
Prescription medications are often used to help reduce the symptoms and discomfort associated with the disease. Therapy is often helpful in managing the progression and assisting in performing daily tasks that can become more difficult as joint flexibility may be reduced. In cases where joint degeneration or alteration has occurred, surgery is also an option that is explored.
For more information and education about Rheumatoid Arthritis, check out this helpful link. If you are concerned about your joint health or have questions about RA, make sure to follow up with your primary care provider. Joint pain and stiffness doesn’t have to be something that you just learn to live with.
Yours in Health,
Diversified Health Clinic