Rheumatoid Arthritis is an auto-immune disease that causes chronic inflammation and pain in usually multiple joints and potentially chronic inflammation in other parts of the body. It can affect people of all ages and the earlier the diagnosis and treatment, usually the better the outcomes.
Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks your own body’s tissues. Unlike the wear-and-tear damage of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of your joints, causing a painful swelling that can eventually result in bone erosion and joint deformity.
The actual cause of Rheumatoid Arthritis is unknown. There are several theories as to the cause however none has been proven. There is evidence of potential risk factors including smoking, genetics, exposure to silica, periodontal disease and microbes in the bowels.
Initial symptoms can present slowly and often involve flare up and remissions. The most common symptoms include:
- Joint pain & swelling – commonly in finger, hands and feet
- Appearance of nodules (fleshy lumps)
- Joint stiffness/loss of range of motion – especially first thing in the morning
- Redness and warmth in the affected joints
- Joint deformity
Diagnosis is made based on clinical presentation & blood tests (An antibody called “Rheumatoid factor” can be found in the blood of about 80% of Rheumatoid Arthritis sufferers and “citrulline antibody” in 50-75% of sufferers). On X-Ray there may also be evidence of joint deformity/destruction. If a person is suspected of having Rheumatoid Arthritis they will also most likely be referred to a Rheumatologist who may decide to perform further tests.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis, however there are treatments and management strategies available and medications may be prescribed to reduce pain and other symptoms.
The goal of treatment is to reduce joint inflammation, maximize joint function and prevent joint destruction & deformity. Management involves rest from aggravating activities, gentle range of motion & strengthening exercises, joint protection (eg. splints), vitamin supplements, devices to help with certain tasks (eg. jar grippers), patient education and occasionally surgical intervention.
Whilst Rheumatoid Arthritis is a chronic destructive inflammatory illness affecting multiple joints and body systems, Osteoarthritis is a non-inflammatory joint disease where the joint cartilage thins leading to joint damage, pain and dysfunction. It can occur in a single joint and is usually due to degeneration, excessive/repetitive loads &/or following a joint injury.