Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Is it Possible to Prevent Rheumatoid Arthritis?

One of the reasons why it is difficult to prevent rheumatoid arthritis is that the medical community does not know what causes it. Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic degeneration of the cartilage in the joints. It is caused by an autoimmune response that turns the body's white blood cells against that cartilage. It is characterized by swollen, tender joints that are stiff and painful to move. This is more so after periods of inactivity such as first thing in the morning. There is no known cure for this disease and only limited treatments.

It is believed that rheumatoid arthritis is a genetic disorder. The only known risk factors are being female and being between 40 and 60 years old. This is the group most likely to develop symptoms of RA. It does also affect men, though only about 1/3 as many as women and it has been seen to develop at earlier ages. It is also sometimes seen in children. Smoking may have a casual link to the onset of symptoms, but this is not entirely certain. If it is linked to the disease somehow, this would be the only risk factor over which a person can have any control.

While we can not prevent rheumatoid arthritis, early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent joint damage. All of the current treatments are symptomatic and include anti -inflammatory medications, pain relievers, and in some cases the use of corticosteroids. Unfortunately, there is a balancing act that must take place. The goal is to slow or halt the progress of the disease while providing as much relief from pain as possible. These two goals often run counter to one another. The medications that reduce swelling and pain have side effects that can lead to more damage to the joints. The medications to prevent damaging the joint further can aggravate the pain level.

Untreated, rheumatoid arthritis is a highly degenerative disease that can progress to a point that leaves a person bedridden in later life. In addition to the medical treatments listed above, occupational and physical therapy is prescribed to improve or maintain range of motion and flexibility. Therapy can consist of exercises to strengthen the muscles around the joints. Other exercises will push the limits of mobility. The goal is to maintain the ability to function in daily life. This is literally a case of use it or lose it as allowing the joints to stiffen can lead to permanent and total disability.

Medical science is progressing rapidly with discoveries of new genetic markers for certain disorders and therapies designed to change certain genetic conditions. At the present time, there is no cure and no known method to prevent rheumatoid arthritis. The best one can hope for is to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms early and seek medical help to limit or prevent a portion of the joint damage caused by RA. Physical or occupational therapy and a mix of anti-inflammatory and pain medications are the best means available to treat the symptoms at this time.

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