Rheumatoid Arthritis: Symptoms, Causes, and Medications

Rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that mainly impacts the joints, occurs when the immune system wrongly attacks the tissues of the body, particularly the joint linings, unlike osteoarthritis, which results from deterioration.

Millions of people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) face a daily struggle due to this disease. RA is more than just a medical condition. RA is a chronic inflammatory disease that induces severe pain, swelling, and eventually joint deformity, unlike the temporary aches and pains that come with ageing.

In this article, we will cover the symptoms, causes, and medications for rheumatoid arthritis, offering insights into this chronic medical condition and practical management techniques.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that primarily affects the joints. RA can harm any joint in the body, usually beginning with the smaller joints in the hands and feet. It usually appears uniformly, so if one hand or knee is affected, the other is probably going to be as well. RA can lead to widespread symptoms like fatigue, fever, and weight loss, as well as joint issues.

Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Here are the common symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis:

Joint Pain and Swelling

The most common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are joint pain and swelling. Especially in the mornings or following prolonged periods of inactivity, the pain in affected joints may be more intense when moving or after sitting for extended times.

Another common symptom is swelling, which causes joints to become significantly warm and swollen. The affected parts may feel heavy or restricted due to the swelling, which can last even during rest. It hardens the joints and reduces the likelihood of motion.

Stiffness

Rheumatoid arthritis often shows stiffness as an early symptom, which usually takes the form of prolonged morning stiffness that lasts longer than an hour. Getting out of bed and doing basic tasks such as brushing your teeth or getting dressed can be challenging due to this stiffness.

Joint stiffness is not just a problem in the mornings; it can also happen after an extended time of inactivity, such as when watching a movie or working at a workplace. 

Fatigue

One of the most common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis is chronic fatigue, which is often accompanied by fever and a generalised feeling of tiredness. Moreover, this fatigue is a deep sense of exhaustion that can decrease both mental and physical energy, making even the most straightforward tasks seem impossible.

The lack of energy that RA patients frequently experience impairs their daily functioning, impacting their quality of life overall, at work, and in their personal lives. Overcoming fatigue all the time can cause emotional distress and a diminished sense of well-being, which emphasises the need for all-encompassing management techniques that take care of mental and physical health.

Redness and Warmth

Warmth and redness around the afflicted joints are apparent symptoms of active rheumatoid arthritis inflammation. During flare-ups, there is often a greater appearance of redness and warmth to the skin over these joints. 

It is necessary to acquire a proper medical diagnosis to distinguish between the conditions because the redness, warmth, and swelling can occasionally be mistaken for an infection. The inflammatory response affects the surrounding tissues as well as the joint, which causes pain and further distorts the diagnostic picture of the disease.

Joint Deformity

Rheumatoid arthritis can cause joint deformities over time, especially in the hands and fingers. The ongoing inflammation erodes the joint structures, resulting in a deformity where the joints become bent and displaced.

Joint deformities can severely impair function, making it challenging to carry out tasks requiring fine motor skills, like typing, writing, or buttoning clothing. In extreme situations, these abnormalities might become irreversible and require surgery to relieve pain or partially restore function. The advancement of joint deformity emphasises how crucial early and intensive treatment is to prevent serious complications.

Symmetrical Symptoms

Usually, rheumatoid arthritis affects joints symmetrically, which means that it corresponding joints on both sides of the body, such as both wrists or both knees. When evaluating patients who may have rheumatoid arthritis, medical professionals use the symmetrical distribution of joint inflammation as an essential tool for diagnosis.

For patients, the symmetrical symptoms can have severe effects because they may result in a consistent loss of function and mobility, which can affect everyday activities and quality of life.

Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Several factors are considered to have a role in the development of Rheumatoid Arthritis, though the exact cause is not fully understood. These include:

Genetic Factors

A higher risk of developing RA is related to specific genetic factors, such as the HLA-DRB1 gene, emphasising the significance of genetic predisposition in the emergence of the disease.

Immune System Dysfunction

RA is an autoimmune disease resulting from the immune system mistakenly attacking the linings of joints. The immune system’s disruption emphasises the complexities of the cause of RA and the need for immunologically targeted treatments.

Environmental Factors

In people who are genetically predisposed to the disease, exposure to specific environmental factors, like smoking or infections, can cause RA. It indicates that genetic and environmental factors interact closely in the development of disease.

Hormonal Factors

As rheumatoid arthritis is more common in women, hormones may play a role in this disease. It suggests that hormonal changes may have an impact on the development of the disease, though the precise mechanism is still unknown. Gaining more knowledge about the function that hormones play in rheumatoid arthritis may lead to the development of new therapies, such as personalised treatments based on hormone levels.

Infectious Agents

Infectious agents may contribute to the beginning of the disease by inciting inflammation and activating the immune system, as some studies indicate that bacteria or viruses may cause RA in individuals with a genetic predisposition.

Medication for Rheumatoid Arthritis

There are several types of medications used to manage rheumatoid arthritis:

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

They facilitate symptom management by lowering inflammation and relieving pain. They are frequently available without a prescription and have the potential to provide temporary relief.

Corticosteroids

These medications also slow the breakdown of joints and reduce inflammation, but because of their adverse effects, they are usually only taken temporarily. They are frequently given to reduce inflammation and prevent symptoms from recurring.

Disease-modifying antirheumatic Drugs (DMARDs)

DMARDs are essential for preventing the advancement of RA and preventing permanent harm to joints and other tissues. One of the most widely used DMARDs, methotrexate is often prescribed as a first-line therapy.

Biologic Agents

These drugs work by focusing on particular immune system components to lower inflammation and shield joints and tissues from harm. TNF inhibitors and IL-6 inhibitors are two examples. When other treatments are ineffective or not well received, biologics are commonly prescribed.

JAK Inhibitors

A distinct approach for controlling RA symptoms and development is provided by this new medication, which blocks Janus kinase pathways involved in the immune system’s response. When treating moderate-to-severe RA, JAK inhibitors are usually prescribed either independently or in combination with other treatments.

Conclusion

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease that demands a holistic approach to management. Maintaining quality of life and preventing significant joint damage require early diagnosis and treatment. Many RA patients are now able to lead active, satisfying lives due to major improvements in treatment approaches and medication.

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