by Charlene J. Nuble
A shooting pain in the knee. A burning sensation in the
hand. Before you know it, you have rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammation of the
joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which
the immune system attacks normal tissues as if they were
invading antibodies. Rheumatoid arthritis also causes
inflammation of the tissues around the joints and other organs
of the body. The hands and feet are the most affected areas of
rheumatoid arthritis although it can also affect any joint
lined by a membrane. Rheumatoid arthritis is referred to as a
systematic illness and sometimes called rheumatoid disease.
Rheumatoid arthritis manifests itself over a period of a few
months. However, for some, the disease appears overnight.
Accelerated onset of rheumatoid arthritis does not mean the
individual is at greater risk of the progression of the
disease. Rheumatoid arthritis can lasts for years without
symptoms. But rheumatoid arthritis is an illness that
progresses and has the potential to cause joint destrution and
functional disability. Usually, patients suffer cycles from
severe to light symptoms. In terms of statistics, rheumatoid
arthritis is three times more common in women than in men. It
also besets people of all races equally. Rheumatoid arthritis
can begin at any age but most often start in the early
What causes rheumatoid arthritis? The truth is, its cause is
still unknown. Viruses, bacteria, and fungi have long been
suspected but none has been proven to be the cause. The cause
of rheumatoid arthritis has been the focus of different
research activities. There are some scientists who believe that
the tendency to develop rheumatoid arthritis may be genetically
inherited while others believe that certain factors in the
environment might elicit the immune system to attack the body's
own tissue components. This attack results to the inflammation
in various organs such as lungs or eyes.
Researchers have also found that environmental factors may
also play a role in the cause of rheumatoid arthritis. In fact,
scientists reported that smoking tobacco increases risk in the
development of rheumatoid arthritis.
The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis depend on the degree of
tissue inflammation. Rheumatoid arthritis is said to be active
if the body tissues are inflammed. When the tissue inflammation
subsides, rheumatoid arthritis is said to be in remission.
Remissions may happen spontaneously or with treatment and can
last for weeks, months, even years. During active rheumatoid
arthritis, symptoms are felt. Symptoms may include fatigue,
lack of appetite, low grade fever, and muscles and joint aches.
Muscles and joint stiffness are usually felt during mornings
and after a period of inactivity. During relapses (from
inactivity to activity) of rheumatoid arthritis, joints become
red, swollen, painful, and tender. This happens because the
tissue lining of the joints become inflamed which results in
the excess production of joint fluids.
Multiple joints are usually inflamed in symmetrical pattern
and the joints of both hands and wrists are often affected.
Simple tasks such as turning the door knob and opening the jars
can be painful. Rheumatoid arthritis can also affect the joint
responsible for the tightening of vocal cords to change the
tone of the voice although rarely. But when this happens, it
can cause hoarseness of the voice.
As mentioned before, rheumatoid arthritis is a systematic
disease which can affect organs and areas of the body other
than the joints. Sjorgen's syndrome is the inflammation of the
glands of the eyes and mouth which causes dryness. Rheumatoid
inflammation of the lung lining can cause chest pains because
the lung tissue itself is inflamed and nodules of inflammation
also develop within the lungs. Rheumatoid arthritis can also
reduce the number of red blood cells which can result to anemia
and white blood cells which can result to increase risk of
infections. A rare, serious complication of rheumatoid
arthritis is blood vessel inflammation which can impair blood
supply to tissues and lead to death of tissues.
A rheumatologist is a doctor who specializes in arthritis
and other related diseases. The rheumatologist reviews the
history of symptoms, examines the joints, and the other parts
of the body for the inflammation. The diagnosis is usually
based on the pattern of symptoms, the distribution of the
inflamed joints, and the blood and x-rays obtained.
Until now, there is no known cure for rheumatoid arthritis.
Reducing joint inflammation and pain, maximizing joint
function, and preventing joint destruction is the current goal
in treating rheumatoid arthritis. Early medical intervention
has been found to improve outcomes in treatment. Optimal
treatment includes combination of medications, joint
strengthening exercises, joint protection, and patient
education. Treatment is customized according to many factors
such as disease activity, types of joints involved, general
health, age, and occupation. But treatment is most successful
when there is close cooperation between the doctor and the
About the author:
Charlene J. Nuble 2005
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