A diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis can seem devastating. But as you live with the disease and learn more about it, you'll realize that your life doesn't have to be controlled by your condition, and you'll learn to make adjustments and keep going. Below are some basic facts about rheumatoid arthritis to get you going.
There are three main symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis:
- swelling and pain of the joints
- stiffness and loss of mobility
Occasionally, other areas of the body, such as the circulatory and nervous systems, are also affected.
Anemia is a low red blood cell count. Aside from the joint problems, anemia is the most common symptom associated with rheumatoid arthritis. This usually happens for one of two reasons:
- Anemia of chronic disease. The inflammatory effects of the disease on bone marrow and the production of blood cells gradually reduces the number of available red blood cells.
- Iron deficiency anemia. Gastrointestinal bleeds, a common side-effect of many of the medications used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, cause continuous low-level blood loss, and a mild form of anemia develops.
Early diagnosis is key in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Early, aggressive treatment, can often result in a dramatic improvement and slow the course of the disease considerably. Rheumatoid arthritis is diagnosed in one of several ways:
- The location and distribution of aching joints. In rheumatoid arthritis, unlike many other forms of arthritis, the joint pain is usually symmetrical.
- Rheumatic nodules. These bumps, located underneath the skin, are a good indication of arthritis.
- X-rays. Certain patterns of joint deterioration, indicative of rheumatoid arthritis, can be observed on x-ray scans.
- Rheumatoid factor. Rheumatoid factor is an antibody that binds other antibodies. While some people have rheumatoid factor without having arthritis, this is rare, and this test is one of the most reliable ways of determining if someone has rheumatoid arthritis.
4. What causes rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. This means that the immune-system becomes confused and starts attacking the body, specifically the joints in this case. Some people seem to have a genetic predisposition to the disease. The onset of the disease is thought to be triggered by an infection.
5. Who gets rheumatoid arthritis?
Roughly one percent of the population has rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis affects more women than men, in a two-to-one ratio. The age of onset is usually during middle age, but both children and the elderly can develop the condition.
6. How to find the right doctor
Rheumatoid arthritis is a difficult condition to treat. Therefore, it is important to see a physician specialized in the treatment of arthritis, a rheumatologist. For many people, seeing a physical therapist can also be very beneficial.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic condition. A small number of patients only have the disease for a short time and then go into remission, but for the vast majority, the disease progresses over the course of the years, getting increasingly worse. The lifespan of patients with rheumatoid arthritis is usually reduced by between ten and fifteen years. However, there is help. Most treatments are based on reducing symptoms, slowing the process of joint damage , and maintaining function for as long as possible. Simple life-style changes such as reducing stress and exercising can make a considerable difference in the progression of the disease. Finally, many different medications are available to treat the disease.
8. Stress reduction
Stress can make rheumatoid arthritis symptoms much worse. Therefore, an important part of dealing with the disease is stress reduction. Cutting down on non-essential chores and getting help from family and friends to deal with big tasks are simple steps that can help reduce stress. Working from home is another option. Some people meditate or use aromatherapy to relax and stay calm. Finally, getting enough sleep is of the utmost importance.
Exercise can help manage many of the symptoms of the disease as well as improve overall health. Three types of exercise are recommended especially for rheumatoid arthritis patients:
- Range-of-motion exercises. These types of exercises, such as dance or Tai Chi, improve flexibility and posture while moving all the joints through their full range-of-motion.
- Strengthening exercises. Stronger muscles give better support to aching joints
- Endurance exercises. Aerobics increase cardiovascular health, improving stamina and energy.
The goal of rheumatoid arthritis medications is twofold: to alleviate symptoms and to slow the progression of joint damage. The most common medications include anti-inflammatories, immune-suppressants, and disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs. Many of these medications have serious side effects. Furthermore, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, different combinations will work for different patients. Therefore, it's important to work closely with your rheumatologist to figure out the best possible course of treatment for your disease. Rheumatoid arthritis does mean you'll have to make changes. You'll have to adjust to your new circumstances and limitations. But with the right information, you'll find ways to deal with arthritis, and soon you'll find new ways to enjoy yourself and live life to the fullest.