Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the most widespread diseases in the world and it affects male and female, young and old. It is estimated that three in every hundred people develop rheumatoid arthritis.
Although it affects both sexes, more women than men are likely to develop this debilitating condition. The disease generally occurs between the ages of 30 and 60, but it can strike at any age.
Currently no direct cause for rheumatoid arthritis has been determined. There are a number of factors that may trigger the condition which include, predisposing genetic factors, bacterial or viral infections, chemicals in foods, sporting injuries and even stress. It's also possible that it may take a one or more of these to trigger the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
What we do know is that rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. This basically means our immune system is faulty and doesn't behave in the way it should behave.
The key role of the body's immune system is to protect it from outside invaders and repair the damage when things go wrong. When the immune system is working normally it knows which particles, cells and bacteria that is good or bad. In order to protect our body the immune system will attack the foreign invaders that don' belong in our bodies.
Inflammation and swelling is the natural process of the body healing itself. For example if you break a bone in your body it will soon be followed by swelling and inflammation. This is a result of our immune system repairing the broken bone.
Unfortunately, when the immune system is faulty it cannot tell the difference between which particles are foreign to the body and which are not. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) the malfunctioning immune system attacks the joints.
To understand how RA affects the joints and its common symptoms causes it is better to have an understanding of how the joints work. Your joints are a lot more than just than two bones moving together. They also include a complex network of tendons, ligaments, joint capsules, cartilage and synovial fluid.
The edges of the two opposing bones are lined with a soft substance called cartilage. In between the joint is a capsule which contains synovial fluid. The cartilage and the fluid act as shock absorbers between the joints which also helps to protect them.
When a flare-up occurs the joints synovial fluid becomes inflamed. The inflammation results in too much fluid being produced which leads to swelling. The swelling also makes the joint lining thicker and this begins to destroy the protective layer of cartilage.
As pointed out earlier the cartilage acts as a shock absorber, but if the condition is left untreated the exposed cause severe pain when they rub together. In severe cases of RA the bones can actually fuse together and the person can lose all movement and mobility in the joint.
It's important to spot the symptoms of RA as soon as possible before the condition progresses and gets worse. The early symptoms are discomfort and pain in the fingers and the feet.
Another early warning sign is morning stiffness when moving your joints can feel heavy and sluggish especially after getting out of bed or up after a long period of rest. In the early stages the stiffness can easily be reduced with gentle movement and stretching of the joints.
With RA the joints will swell up and feel warm due to the inflammation. As well as joint pain the inflammation may spread to other organs of the body. With RA people can also suffer from chronic fatigue both physically and mentally.
The symptoms of RA will come and go. This means that between flare-ups there will be periods of remission where the pain and inflammation will reduce or even disappear. However, RA is unpredictable as it can re-occur even after long periods of no symptoms at all.