Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic disease, which causes pain and swelling in the membranes that protect and hold together the bones of the joints. It can also cause twisting and stretching of the ligaments and tendons and eventually damage the bones and cartilage of the joints. RA can also affect other organs or tissues of the body like your hands, fingers, legs or knees. It can also affect non-joint body parts, such as eyes, skin, lungs, heart or kidneys.
Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the most common forms of arthritis, and like many other arthritic diseases, it is called “chronic”, meaning, as soon as it sets in, it lasts all your life. Usually, the symptoms appear and disappear in waves. Studies are still being conducted to understand definite causes and the cure for RA, however, few triggers and symptoms have been identified.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms
Rheumatoid arthritis tends to manifest first by loss of appetite and fatigue. In some cases, you will feel slightly feverish or you will suffer from anaemia (reduction of red blood cells). In addition to the redness that appears on the joints, some suffer from a considerable reduction in mobility.
The most common symptoms include:
- Morning stiffness that lasts for more than 30 to 60 minutes;
- Pain in three or more joints at the same time (like hands, fingers, legs or knees);
- Joint pain that persists at night;
- Pain in the same joints on both sides of the body;
- Weakness and fatigue.
The symptoms may vary from person to person. Some people have a mild form, that is, they have flare-ups (inflammation, pain) and remissions. In others, the disease could show symptoms permanently, with a gradual worsening of the condition.
Researchers have not yet been able to know why RA happens, but the nature of the disease places it in the category of “autoimmune diseases”.
The immune system no longer recognizes its own tissues and reacts as if it were in the presence of a foreign body. This misidentification causes the immune system to attack the lining of the synovial membrane around your joints. The joint swells and becomes painful. The inflammation of the synovial membrane has a negative impact not only on the cartilage and the bones, but also on the tendons and ligaments surrounding the joint. Eventually, as the tendons and ligaments weaken, the joints begin losing their shape and alignment which affects your movement.
Certain factors are known to increase your risk of rheumatoid arthritis. These include:
- Heredity: Some people have genes that predispose them to RA.
- Gender: Researchers believe that female hormones could also be a trigger, as 70% of people with RA are women.
- Age: Although the disease can occur at any age, it mostly affects people between the ages of 40 and 60.
- Smoking: Recently, the role of tobacco in the development of the disease has been demonstrated. Thus, the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis for a smoker is increased in men as well as in women, but with a significantly higher percentage in men.
- Weight: Obese or overweight people are also at risk.
Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis
Living with a chronic illness can make you feel isolated, especially when you have to change your daily habits, see many health professionals, and learn medical terms. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, there are many things you can do to reduce your symptoms. Moderate exercise, healthy eating and relaxation techniques play an important role in joint care.
- Inflammatory arthritis pain can be relieved with hot or cold compresses. Hot compresses dilate the blood vessels, stimulate the blood circulation, and reduce muscular spasms. Cold compresses help fight against swollen joints by contracting blood vessels, and provides an anesthetic effect against deep pain. You can use either of these therapies twice a day.
- Physiotherapy is helpful for improving joint function because it helps strengthen the muscles that surround the affected joint. Some physiotherapists also practice acupuncture; they plant needles on acupuncture points. This therapy is known to have a positive effect against joint pain.
- Stretching exercises, where you stretch all limbs, are particularly suitable for joint pain. Not only does they strengthen the joints, but are also essential to maintain your optimal weight.
- Experts stress the importance of eating a “healthy arthritis diet” that includes foods naturally rich in omega-3 (such as wild fish and wild nuts / seeds), plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit, bone broth, high sulfur foods and healthy fats such as olive oil and coconut oil.
- Having enough sleep and limiting emotional stress allows the joints to heal better; these habits are therefore particularly important during episodes of inflammation, pain, swelling and stiffness.
- The use of compression gloves and socks or a form of support (splints, braces, canes, crutches) is known to make living with RA simpler if not easy.
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