We’ve talked quite a bit about osteoarthritis (OA), the most prevalent arthritic condition, but as we mentioned before…OA is only one of many bone and joint conditions.
Today, we’re going to take a look at rheumatoid arthritis (RA)—what it is, how it differs from osteoarthritis, and some hallmark signs and symptoms of the disease.
What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
RA is an autoimmune disease that affects the entire body.
The first signs and symptoms of the disease usually become present first in the small joints of fingers and toes. Over time, larger arthroses (joints) become affected and damaged, too.
Joint pain may be severe. Swelling, redness, increased heat, and deformity of joints occur when RA is present. Permanent damage to joints and their linings may occur within the first three months of the onset of rheumatoid arthritis.
Fatigue may be debilitating much of the time. Depression is ubiquitous. Self-esteem may suffer. The illness also presents stress for the afflicted person and family members.
Those who have RA may experience mild fevers, anemia, and weight changes as well. Hard lumps, called nodules, may develop under the skin. These usually arise in the joints of the extremities.
People with RA often have flare-ups alternated with periods of remission.
What is a “flare up?”
While there isn’t a concrete definition for a flare up (as it may vary from person to person), we found an interesting study by Markusse et al., that analyzed the data from a RA study that followed 508 RA patients over a period of 10-years. Here’s what they concluded:
“In patients with RA, a flare in disease activity is associated with functional disability, more pain and morning stiffness, and more radiographic progression, both in the short-term and the long-term.”
The length of a rheumatoid arthritis flare ups may vary from days to several weeks. As time progresses, the periods of remission shorten.
Let's look at how rheumatoid arthritis is similar and different when compared to osteoarthritis.
RA versus OA
Like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis causes joint pain and stiffness.
Joint deformity and degeneration of the tissues which line joints are characteristics of both, too. Unlike OA, however, symptoms of RA typically occur on both sides of the body simultaneously.
Unlike osteoarthritis, which primarily impacts specific joints, rheumatoid arthritis affects organs, muscles, bone, and connective tissues. RA can even damage the heart, lungs, skin, eyes, blood vessels and blood cells.
OA is known to develop as a result of wear and tear over the years, or even due to an injury, whereas RA, may arise at any age and without notice or evidence of distress on the joints.
Most people diagnosed with RA are between the ages of 30 and 60. In addition, women are 2 to 3 times more likely than men to be diagnosed.
While the precise cause of RA is not known, heredity, hormones, environment, smoking, and obesity are associated risk factors of the disease.
A severe disease that affects more than the joints
Since RA is a disease of the immune system, afflicted persons are prone to contracting infectious diseases. In fact, minor illnesses can become dangerous if a person has RA.
Unfortunately, many medications used to treat it are extremely strong and further suppress the immune system, making the chance of contracting an infection greater.
Living well with rheumatoid arthritis
Early diagnosis and treatment are essential and a customized, multi-faceted treatment plan can improve both comfort and mobility.
The good news is, joint damage may be slowed.
Reducing inflammation and tissue destruction while enhancing comfort is vital. It is essential to address the needs of the whole person and provide support to loved ones too.
Keep an eye out for our next blog post on RA! We will be exploring the various ways one can improve pain, inflammation, and other symptoms.