Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the small joints in the hands and feet. It affects the synovial tissues surrounding the joints, and if unmanaged, often causes painful swelling and inflammation that can result in bone erosion and joint deformity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 50 million adults in the U.S. suffer from some form of arthritic disease and that nearly 1.5 million adults have RA.
RA differs from other forms of arthritis in that inflammation is not caused by regular wear and tear of joints; rather, it is the result of a malfunction in the immune system. It is estimated that women have three times greater chance of contracting RA than men. The condition is common among women in the 30-60 age group and usually occurs somewhat later in life in men.
The typical symptoms of RA are joint pain and stiffness. The most common joints affected are the fingers, wrists, arms and legs. Swelling will occur due to fluid build-up in the joint cavity and this will give the joint a boggy or spongy feel. In addition to pain and swelling in the joints, there are some other signs which patients should not ignore
- Fatigue – Unexplained fatigue can be indicative of RA. In most cases, tiredness is accompanied by a feeling of weakness (which can be joint specific). This condition generally causes inflammation, which generates heat and directs blood flow to other affected parts of the body. As this consumes a lot of energy, it can leave the person feeling tired and weak.
- Numbness and tingling sensation – The disease causes the connective tissues in the hand or foot to become inflamed and push against a nerve causing numbness and tingling sensation. This may result in patients experiencing weakness, clumsiness, or even nerve damage. Swelling can happen in tissues throughout the body, but it commonly occurs around the wrist area.
- Inability to move hand or foot – This severe complication occurs when the inflamed vessels limit the amount of blood that reaches nerves in your hand or foot. Affected hands may become reddened and puffy.
- Weight loss – This disease can cause flu-like symptoms, which suppresses appetite and results in weight loss.
- Red, inflamed eyes – In some cases, people with RA will develop inflammation in the eyes called scleritis. The condition is characterized by pain, dryness, blurred vision and sensitivity to light.
- Fever – Low-grade fever is another symptom of the condition. This may be accompanied by unexplained cough or reddening of an area of the skin.
- Bone fracture – Because of the inflammatory nature of RA, it can lead to osteoporosis, resulting in broken bones and bone loss.
Following a systematic lifestyle integrated with healthy diet and regular exercise regime helps in effective management of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Regular exercise can help prevent joint swelling. Rehabilitation centers help patients manage RA with treatment modalities including physical therapy, TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation), massage, and pain management programs.