When referring to arthritis, you generally bring to mind the normal aging process that results in joint damage and inflammation. Rheumatoid arthritis, however, is a form of arthritis that can strike the old and young alike. The symptoms are more widespread than the common "old age" arthritis. Fortunately, there are many successful treatment options available for those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.
Some signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are similar to those of osteoarthritis while some symptoms are unique to the rheumatoid form. Like osteoarthritis, this arthritis affects the joints causing the cartilage, a rubbery substance whose main function is to protect the joints, to wear down.
This results in joint pain and inflammation. Those suffering from this arthritis can also have a loss of appetite, extreme fatigue and low grade fever. Rheumatoid arthritis is also a progressive disease which means symptoms get worse the longer you have the disorder. In adults symptoms generally begin between the ages of 40 and 60. Juvenile arthritis is a special classification of the disease that affects children younger than 16.
It is diagnosed by meeting certain criteria laid out by the American College of Rheumatology. These include morning stiffness lasting more than one hour, arthritis and swelling of three or more joints in a set of 14 specific joints/joint groups as well as arthritis of the hands.
The arthritis is also symmetric, meaning if you have it in your left knee, you will have it in your right knee also. Nodules, or firm raised lumps, are also a symptom. Those suffering from it generally also have a rheumatoid factor at least in the 95th percentile as well as evidence of joint erosion.
Unlike osteoarthritis, which is caused by the normal aging process, rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body's immune system turns on the body. Researchers are unsure what causes the body's own immune system to mistake the body for a foreign substance. The immune system unleashes its attack on the joints, which results in inflammation and joint erosion.
Thanks to today's medical advances, however, there are several successful treatments available for those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. These include disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARD's) which help stop the body's attack on itself.
Methotrexate, which is one of the more widely used of this class of drugs because it not only controls joint pain and stiffness, but also helps to prevent bone damage. New injectable DMARD's, often referred to as biologics, can also help keep the disease from becoming worse.
These medicines work by causing the tumor necrosis factor (TNF) in the body to return to normal levels, thereby stopping or slowing the progression of rheumatoid arthritis. Unfortunately these injections are costly. Many patients are unable to afford them, and they are often not covered on most insurance plans.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a debilitating condition that worsens the longer you have it. If you suspect you might suffer from this form of arthritis, there are specially trained doctors who can create a treatment plan to help with the pain and inflammation. Drugs can also be prescribed which will help keep it from getting worse. There is help for your condition.