Rheumatoid arthritis

    Definition

    Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease that causes pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of function in the joints.

    While African Americans do not suffer predominantly from this form of arthritis, studies have linked smoking to the development of rheumatoid arthritis in African-Americans. According to study results published in the December 2010 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism, researchers found that African-Americans with rheumatoid arthritis were much more likely to be current smokers.

    Causes

    Scientists believe that rheumatoid arthritis may result from the interaction of many factors such as genetics, hormones, and the environment. Although rheumatoid arthritis sometimes runs in families, the actual cause of rheumatoid arthritis is still unknown.

    Research suggests that a person’s genetic makeup is an important part of the picture, but not the whole story. Some evidence shows that infectious agents, such as viruses and bacteria, may trigger rheumatoid arthritis in people with an inherited tendency to develop the disease. However, a specific agent or agents are not yet known.

    Symptoms

    Different types of arthritis have different symptoms. In general, people with most forms of arthritis have pain and stiffness in their joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by inflammation of the joint lining. This inflammation causes warmth, redness, swelling, and pain around the joints. A person also feels sick, tired, and sometimes feverish.

    Rheumatoid arthritis generally occurs in a symmetrical pattern. If one knee or hand is affected, the other one is also likely to be affected.

    Exams and Tests

    Rheumatoid arthritis can be difficult to diagnose in its early stages for several reasons. First, there is no single test for the disease. In addition, symptoms differ from person to person and can be more severe in some people than in others.

    One common test for rheumatoid arthritis is the rheumatoid factor test. However, not all people with rheumatoid arthritis test positive for rheumatoid factor, especially early in the disease. Also, some people who do test positive never develop the disease. Another test is called the citrulline antibody test.

    Other common tests for rheumatoid arthritis include the erythrocyte sedimentation rate, which indicates the presence of inflammation in the body; a test for white blood cell count; and a blood test for anemia.

    Treatments

    Treatments for rheumatoid arthritis can help relieve your pain, reduce swelling, slow down or help prevent joint damage, increase your ability to function, and improve your sense of well-being.

    Exercise, medication, and, in some cases, surgery are common treatments for rheumatoid arthritis. People with rheumatoid arthritis need a good balance between rest and exercise; they should rest more when the disease is active and exercise more when it is not.

    Reducing stress also is important. Doing relaxation exercises and taking part in support groups are two ways to help reduce stress.

    Possible Complications

    Rheumatoid arthritis increases your risk of developing:

    •    Osteoporosis
    •    Carpal tunnel syndrome
    •    Heart problems
    •    Lung disease

     

    When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Contact a medical professional if you experience the following:

    •    Tender, warm, swollen joints
    •    Morning stiffness that may last for hours
    •    Firm bumps of tissue under the skin on your arms (rheumatoid nodules)
    •    Fatigue, fever and weight loss

    Preventions

    There is no known way to prevent rheumatoid arthritis, although progression of the disease usually can be stopped or slowed by early, aggressive treatment.

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