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Doc Talk Doc Talk: Facts about rheumatoid arthritis

  • Published Monday, March 4, 2013, at 10:20 p.m.

When people hear the word arthritis, they typically think of joint pain related to aging or injury. While it is true that the most common type of arthritis, osteoarthritis, is the result of wear and tear and generally affects elderly patients (it is the main cause of disability among people age 55 and older), there are more than 100 various forms of arthritis.

Some forms of arthritis can affect people at a very early age. Younger adults and children are more likely to suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, the second most common form of arthritis.

What is rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the soft tissue lining of joints. This lining, called the synovial membrane (synovium), contains lubricant fluid. With rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system is not able to distinguish itself from foreign invaders and creates antibodies directed against itself, resulting in joint swelling and pain.

How is rheumatoid arthritis different than osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is not an autoimmune disease. It is the result of wear and tear of the joint causing cartilage, which acts as a shock absorber, to become damaged. Laxity of ligaments and formation of bone spurs are among the other changes that occur in osteoarthritic joint. Eventually, the bones may rub against each other, causing very severe pain.

What are the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis?

Pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints are the most common symptoms. It can also cause systemic symptoms such as fatigue, fever and weight loss.

Which joints are affected by rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis can affect any joint of the body and most commonly affects wrists, small joints of the hands and balls of the feet.

What causes rheumatoid arthritis?

The exact cause is not known. It is believed to be caused by a combination of genetics, abnormal immunity and environmental and hormonal factors.

Who is at risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis?

Women are at a higher risk of rheumatoid arthritis than men. It can affect any race at any age, with a peak onset of disease between 30 to 50 years of age, although children and much older people may also be affected. Having a family history of rheumatoid arthritis also increases your risk.

How is it diagnosed?

Rheumatoid arthritis is diagnosed with a comprehensive and informational discussion of history and physical examination by a specialist and by obtaining some blood tests and X-rays.

Is there a cure for rheumatoid arthritis?

There is no cure, but rheumatoid arthritis can be controlled with medications that help reduce joint pain and swelling and prevent joint damage. Early initiation of treatment delivers better long-term results. Several advanced treatments have become available in the past decade, and your rheumatologist will decide which one is best for you. Medications that may be used include anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids and other immuno-modulatory treatments.

How can rheumatoid arthritis patients improve their overall health?

Exercise regularly by walking, swimming or cycling four to five times a week. Stop smoking, eat healthy, get vaccinated and follow up with your rheumatologist regularly. Take good control of your blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes.

Receiving a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis is not welcome news at any age. But, with good lifestyle choices and medication management, those affected can lead mobile, comfortable and productive lives.

Doc Talk is a column about health issues by Wichita-area physicians. This column was written by Praveena Gorantla, Rheumatology, Wichita Clinic, 3311 E. Murdock and 13213 W. 21st St. N., 316-689-9188.

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