Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is like other autoimmune diseases in that the body seems to attack itself. Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that affects your joints.
It causes severe inflammation with pain and swelling. Early in the disease there may be only pain and stiffness, but as the disease progresses it may cause joint damage and deformity.
Small Joints are affected Early
It may attack one or many joints most often in your wrists and ankles, hands and feet, and in the small joints of your fingers and toes.
Larger joints such as your knees, elbows, and shoulders may also be affected but that usually happens later in the course of the disease.
If a joint on one side is affected the same joint on the opposite side is often also affected.
Joint Damage from Uncontrolled RA
Joint damage occurs when your immune system releases inflammatory chemicals within the joint. It is these inflammatory chemicals such as peptides, bradykinin and cytokines that cause permanent damage to the joint cartilage.
When RA is left uncontrolled, and the inside of the joint becomes severely swollen and inflamed, it will begin to release enzymes that soften the cartilage and bone. As the soft bone erodes away the joint becomes deformed and eventually loses function.
These pictures show the progressive deformity of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Image thanks to Arnavaz, via Wikimedia Commons
Often require wheelchairs for transportation and help with normal activities
In years past people with RA were sentenced to a life of crippling pain. Fortunately, in recent years doctors have gotten better at recognizing this disease early in the process before permanent damage has occurred.
Even though there is no cure for RA modern treatments are usually able to suppress the inflammation enough to limit the pain and swelling and avoid permanent damage and deformity of the affected joints.
There is No Cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
While there is no cure for RA, modern medications and treatments are able to give most people a full and active life in spite of their diagnosis with RA.
Manage RA with Early Recognition and Aggressive Treatment
The keys to limiting the pain and sufferring of RA and avoiding permanent disability are early recognition of the disease and aggressive treatment
Early in the disease RA can be difficult to recognize. Your doctor will consider your family history, blood tests, and a close physical examination to help decide if you have RA.
Scientists are working to
understand the causes of RA
Image thanks to Rhoda Baer, via Wikimedia Commons
While the hereditary factors involved in RA are not clearly understood, there appears to be some type of a genetic link.
Scientists will often study identical and nonidentical or fraternal twins to help them understand the genetics involved in certain diseases.
They do this because identical twins have identical genes and fraternal twins do not have identical genes.
Studies with twins also help because twins (both identical and fraternal) generally grow up together and are exposed to the same environmental influences.
Studies with Twins
A disease that is caused by something in the environment will occur with similar frequency in both types of twins. But, a disease with a genetic influence will have a higher frequency in both identical twins and a lower frequency in both fraternal twins.
When researchers looked at RA they found that among identical twins if one developed RA then there was a 12-15% chance of the other twin developing RA. This compares to only 4% among fraternal twins.
Genetic vs Environmental
This does appear to show a genetic link but environmental factors appear to perhaps play a bigger role.
Because there is no single test to diagnose RA your doctor will make the diagnosis based on many different factors.
It is important to let your doctor know if any of your parents, grandparents, or other relatives had RA.