Pains in the joints is a frequent complaint in lots of people all over the world, affecting different genders and people who engage in different kinds of work. Most of these people end up dosing on all kinds of painkillers to numb their self-diagnosed body hurt and this has become a normality among a large number. But you need to know when is the right time to take these painkillers. It is important that we stop this rush on pain killers and self-diagnoses and seek professional medical help always. This is because pains in the joints could be due to a number of diseases of which rheumatoid arthritis is one.
What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune chronic inflammatory disease. This is a situation whereby your immune system attacks normal healthy cells of the body thereby causing painful swellings. Rheumatoid arthritis mainly attacks the joints. It is characterized by a symmetric polyarthritis, (that is, this swelling occur on many joints at once usually on similar joints on both sides). It is the most common form of chronic inflammatory arthritis.
This disease commonly affects the joints in the hands, wrist, knees or ankles. Rheumatoid arthritis causes damage to joint tissues which can cause chronic pain, lack of balance to the joint and also deformity. It also affects other parts of the body such as heart, eyes and the heart.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis on the onset may not show symptoms such as redness or swellings in the joints. Some people with this condition experience pain in the joints.
People with rheumatoid arthritis may occasionally experience times when their symptoms can gets worse called flares. These flares can last for days and even months, after which they experience times when the symptoms ease down called remission.
The signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis generally include:
- An aching and throbbing pain in the joints.
- Stiffness in joints that prevents bending of the joints.
- The joints swell, become hot and tender to touch due to the inflammation.
- Tiredness and lack of energy.
- High temperature.
- Poor appetite.
- Weight loss.
- Dryness of eyes.
- Chest pain, that is if the problem also affects other parts of the body.
So Who is at Risk of Getting Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is caused when the immune system, which is meant to protect the body releases antibodies that attacks the lining of your joints, and thereby attacking the tissues surrounding the joint. Researchers still do not yet know why this happens.
This condition is typically two to three times higher in women than men. Although it affects people of any age, it is seen more in adults.
Researches have identified that this disease could also be due to a gene. So if you have someone in your family with rheumatoid arthritis, there is a chance you might get the disease also.
Habits such as smoking also increases the chances of getting the disease.
Diagnosing Rheumatoid Arthritis
Diagnosis of Rheumatoid arthritis is largely based on its signs and symptoms. So, once any of the above symptoms is noticed, you should visit your general medical practitioner who will direct you to a doctor who has specialized in arthritis called a rheumatologist.
The rheumatologist will:
- Ask about your medical history such as the above joint symptoms, when they started, how often they arise and if any family member has been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
- Examine you physically looking for swellings in the joints, tenderness, pains and limited movement.
- Run a blood test looking for inflammations and antibodies that will likely attack the joints.
- Take imaging test such as X-rays and MRI scans which can check for inflammation and damage in the joints.
Once you have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, your medical practitioner will do an assessment to see how well you cope with everyday task. This can help in your treatment.
Treatment and Mangement of Rheumatoid Arthritis
The treatment of Rheumatoid arthritis is aimed at stopping inflammation or reducing it. It is also aimed at preventing joint and organ damage and to reduce complications. This is done easily through early treatment.
Treatment options include:
- Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) which block the effects of the chemicals released by your immune system which attacks your joints.
- Biological treatments which are a new form of treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.
- JAK inhibitors.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which can be prescribed in addition to or instead of the pain killers.
- Physiotherapy which can help relieve the pain, it can also help improve your fitness and muscle strength, making your joints more flexible.
- Surgery sometimes may be necessary to reduce pain and fix deformities.
Complications of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Having rheumatoid arthritis can also increase your chances of developing:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome, which is caused by compression of a nerve in the hand leading to pains, numbness and tingling sensations in the wrist.
- It can also cause wide spread inflammation in the lungs, heart and eyes.
- It can lead to joint damage if not treated early.
- Having rheumatoid arthritis puts you at a high risk of getting or developing cardiovascular diseases.
- Rheumatoid arthritis puts you at a risk of developing cervical myelopathy, which is a problem at the top of your spine, which can lead to dislocation at the top of the spine putting pressure on your spinal cord.
Living With Rheumatoid Arthritis
Having rheumatoid arthritis is not the end of the world. Even though you may need long term treatment, depending on the severity of how much pain and stiffness you feel, you can still adapt to this change and lead normal live.
Below are some self-care tips that can be done to help you live with Rheumatoid arthritis.
- Taking your medicine as directed by the doctor.
- Always be in contact with your health care professional to know what you’re doing right so that your condition is well controlled.
- Exercising regularly and eating healthy – which should be a normal routine for everyone – can help reduce the risk of getting many conditions such as heart diseases.
- Talking to people in similar conditions can help you too, as there is solidarity in numbers. So you should try to locate local support groups in your neighborhood.
- Stop smoking, as the disease gets worse with cigarette smoking, which is also generally bad for one’s health.
- Supplements such as fish supplements may help with Rheumatoid pains and stiffness.
- Try as much as possible to relax. Going for a massage can reduce the pain and meditation can also help reduce thinking of your condition.
- Harrison’s principles of internal medicine, by Jameson, Fauci, Kasper, Hauser, Kongo, and Loscalzo.
- Centers for disease control and prevention (CDC) – Rheumatoid Arthritis .
- Arthritis Foundation – Rheumatoid Arthritis.
- United kingdom National health service (NHS) – Rheumatoid Arthritis