Rheumatoid Arthritis: The Search for a Cause and a Cure
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an immune system disease affecting people of all ages. It is most often diagnosed in middle age, but it can also affect children or the elderly. Women are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than men. RA causes chronic inflammation of the joints, specifically the layers between the joints, but also may cause inflammation in other organs of the body.
The cause of rheumatoid arthritis has not yet been discovered. Some people seem to be more likely to develop RA because of their genetic makeup. Something in the environment where they live may trigger the disease. Hormonal or bacterial factors could also be involved in causing RA.
People with rheumatoid arthritis usually experience periods of flares and remissions. It mostly affects symmetrical joints, especially in the fingers, hands, and wrists. The disease varies greatly in individuals, with some developing symptoms very quickly over a short period of time and other experiencing flares and remissions intermittently over several years.
There is no known cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but early detection and treatment can prevent or delay permanent damage to the joints. Combinations of treatments typically result in better control. Medications, plus proper exercise and sufficient rest, as well as joint protection and occasional surgery, produce an overall healthier result for sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is diagnosed by an examination of tender or swollen joints, a blood test called the rheumatoid factor (RF), the presence of stiffness in the early morning or after a period of inactivity, bumps or nodules under the skin near joints, and sometimes an x-ray. Not all of these symptoms may be present, and the RF test is positive in only 80 percent of people with RA. Therefore, a combination of factors is needed to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis. Sufferers of RA may be mildly anemic and another test for inflammation called erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) may be elevated. Sometimes people with RA test positive on an antinuclear antibody (ANA) test.
Because rheumatoid arthritis is an immune system disease, anything that affects the immune system (like allergic reactions) may trigger a flare. The medications used to treat RA affect the immune system as well. People suffering from RA need to be careful about exposure to contagious diseases, especially if the medications in their treatment lower the immune system defenses of their body.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a life-long disease. But with new medications, proper exercise and rest, and protection of the joints when needed, people with RA can live long and productive lives.
Until Next Time, Good Health and Well-Being!
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