Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease that affects millions of people worldwide. It is characterised by persistent, symmetrical inflammation of the joints causing pain, swelling and stiffness, which can hinder movement and reduce the quality of life of those affected.
In addition, chronic inflammation in the joints can cause irreversible joint damage, which can lead to disability and reduce the quality of life of patients.
Although the disease mainly affects the joints, it can also affect other organs and body systems, such as the skin, eyes, lungs and heart.
It is also important to note that it is autoimmune and is not caused by normal joint ageing. For these reasons, it is not an inevitable condition and can affect people of any age. With early diagnosis and appropriate treatment, people with rheumatoid arthritis can have a good quality of life and continue to carry out their daily activities.
It is also complex and can affect each person differently. That’s why it’s crucial to work with a trusted medical team to design a personalised treatment plan that’s tailored to your individual needs.
This condition affects people of all ages, but is more common in women and people over 40. It is estimated that around 1% of the world’s population has it, making it one of the most common chronic musculoskeletal diseases.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe. The most common include:
- Joint pain, especially in the hands, feet and knees:
Joint pain is one of the most common symptoms. It usually affects several joints in the body. The pain can vary from mild to severe and can be constant or come and go. In addition, it often worsens after inactivity or prolonged rest.
- Morning stiffness:
Joint stiffness is another common symptom. It occurs when joints feel stiff and difficult to move, especially after prolonged periods of inactivity. Morning stiffness is particularly common and can last from 30 minutes to several hours.
- Swelling and redness in the affected areas:
This is because inflammation in the joints causes increased blood flow and fluid accumulation. Swelling and redness can affect the mobility and flexibility of the joints.
- Fatigue and weakness:
These are other symptoms that often accompany rheumatoid arthritis. Many people feel tired and have less energy than usual. Fatigue and weakness can be caused by chronic inflammation, hormonal changes and side effects of medications.
- Other symptoms
In addition to those mentioned above, it can also cause other symptoms, such as low-grade fever, weight loss and rheumatoid nodules.
Although the exact cause is not known, it is thought that several factors may contribute to its development, including:
- Genetic factors: there is evidence that there is a genetic predisposition to rheumatoid arthritis, as the disease tends to be more common in certain families.
- Environmental factors: certain environmental factors, such as viral and bacterial infections, can trigger the autoimmune response that leads to rheumatoid arthritis in people with a genetic predisposition.
- Dysregulation of the immune system: the body’s immune system does not function properly, and instead of protecting the body from infection and disease, it attacks the joints and other body tissues.
- Hormones: it has been observed to be more common in women than in men, suggesting that female hormones may be involved in its development.
- It is important to note that although these factors may contribute to its development, not everyone who is genetically predisposed or exposed to environmental factors will develop the disease.
Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis aims to relieve symptoms, reduce inflammation, prevent further joint damage and improve the patient’s quality of life. Treatment options include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce pain and inflammation.
- Disease-modifying drugs, such as methotrexate, hydroxychloroquine and sulfasalazine, to reduce their activity and prevent joint damage.
- Tumour necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors to reduce inflammation and slow disease progression.
- Physiotherapy and occupational therapy to improve muscle strength, flexibility and mobility of affected joints.
- Surgery to repair or replace damaged joints.
It is important to note that it can be a debilitating and chronic disease, and can affect not only physical mobility but also the emotional and mental health of those affected. Therefore, in addition to medical treatments and lifestyle changes, it can be helpful to seek emotional and psychological support to learn to cope with the challenges that the disease can present.
Although there is no known way to prevent it, there are many things you can do to reduce your risk of developing it as there are many risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing the disease, including genetics, smoking, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to reduce your risk of developing it. In this blog, we’ll explore some of the best ways to prevent it:
- Maintain a healthy weight
Obesity is a major risk factor. If you are overweight, it is important to work towards a healthy weight. This can help reduce pressure on your joints and reduce inflammation throughout your body. A healthy, balanced diet, combined with regular exercise, can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight.
- Stop smoking
Smoking is another important risk factor. Smoking can increase inflammation throughout the body, which can increase the likelihood of developing RA. If you are a smoker, it is important to quit as soon as possible. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor or look for online resources.
- Maintain good oral hygiene
Periodontal disease (gum infection) can also increase your risk of developing periodontal disease. Studies have found an association between periodontal disease and rheumatoid arthritis. It is important to maintain good oral hygiene and visit your dentist regularly to prevent periodontal disease.
- Exercise regularly
Regular exercise can help reduce inflammation throughout the body and strengthen muscles and joints. It can also help maintain a healthy weight and reduce stress, which can also be a risk factor. Try to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. If you have a medical condition that prevents you from exercising, talk to your doctor about exercise options that are right for you.
- Manage stress
Chronic stress can increase inflammation throughout the body and increase your risk of developing inflammation. It’s important to find healthy ways to manage stress, such as meditation, yoga, therapy or simply spending time with friends and family.
In summary, rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease that can have a major impact on people’s quality of life. However, with early diagnosis and appropriate treatment, as well as lifestyle changes and emotional support, affected people can lead full and satisfying lives.
To do this, it is important to be informed about the disease and learn as much as you can to make informed decisions about your treatment and lifestyle. There are many organisations and resources available for people with rheumatoid arthritis and their families that can provide information, education and support.