Definition, symptoms and causes of rheumatoid
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory
disease of the joints, affecting more frequently the
wrist and the fingers joints.
It is characterized by severe pain, redness, swelling
and stiffness of the joints involved and, in the most
advanced stages, joint deformities, loss of function and
Rheumatoid arthritis usually develops between ages 25
and 55 and is often characterized by flares of disease
activity alternated with periods of improvement or
remission. Sometimes the disease disappears on its own,
although it is more common that RA lasts lifelong.
Rheumatoid arthritis is referred to as an autoimmune
disease, in which the immune system mistakes some
components of the joint tissue for foreign substances
and attacks them, leading to inflammation and
destruction of the joints involved.
Although immune system dysfunction plays a major role in
the development and progression of rheumatoid arthritis,
other factors come into play as well, including the
patientís gender and genetic makeup.
In fact, it has been shown that women are affected by RA
two to three times more commonly than men.
In addition a particular gene has been identified that
might be associated with a higher probability of getting
the disease. Finally, some researchers have hypothesized
that an infectious agent might play a role as a
triggering factor in the development of RA, but this
hypothesis still remains unproven.
Currently rheumatoid arthritis has no cure, but symptoms
can be effectively managed and its progression can be
slowed down or even stopped, especially when the disease
is diagnosed early.
Treatment* options for rheumatoid
The symptomatic treatment for RA is directed at
relieving joint pain, as well as at reducing or stopping
inflammation and joint damage. Currently a variety of
medications are available to achieve these goals,
1- Medications used to reduce both pain and
inflammation, such as Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory
Drugs or NSAIDs (aspirin and analogues)
2- Analgesics used only to relieve pain, such as
acetaminophen and opioid drugs (morphine and analogues)
3- Medications used to reduce inflammation and joint
damage, such as corticosteroids and a class of drugs
called Disease Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs or DMARDs
(methotrexate, chloroquine and others)
4- Medications used to modify the immune systemís
inflammatory response, such as a class of drugs called
Biologic Response Modifiers
Usually these medications are used in combination with
each other, but the specific treatment protocol greatly
varies among patients, depending on the severity of the
It is therefore the task of the doctor to determine the
most appropriate treatment for each individual patient.
When medical treatment alone is not sufficient to
relieve joint pain and reduce joint damage, surgery may
be considered as an option to improve joint function and
give the patient a better quality of life.
There are many surgical procedures available at the
moment that can effectively correct joint deformities,
improve joint mobility and relieve joint pain. However,
the specific surgical procedure selected for each
patient varies depending on the extent, severity and
location of joint damage, as well as on the individual
health condition of each patient.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease which
usually requires long-term treatment (even lifelong).
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*Always seek professional medical advise from a
qualified doctor before undergoing any treatment.