Rheumatoid Arthritis: What Is It?
Almost all of us have experienced aches and pains in body joints at some point. Joint pain is mostly a temporary discomfort caused by excessive use, and it can be treated with adequate rest and an ice pack. However, in some cases, joint pain results from a disease and requires more serious medical attention. Today, we take a look at one such disease that affects the joints – rheumatoid arthritis.
What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation and pain in the joints. An autoimmune disease is a condition in which your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy body cells.
Rheumatoid arthritis is chronic in nature. This means that it persists for a long period and requires constant medical care. Some people notice that their arthritis symptoms tend to worsen with a change in weather. During the colder months of the year, arthritis symptoms tend to get more painful.
Let’s take a closer look at this form of arthritis by examining the symptoms, causes, risk factors, diagnosis, and treatment methods. We will also look at a few lifestyle tips that can really help patients who have this form of arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and comorbidities
Osteoarthritis is the other common form of arthritis that affects patients. You may wonder how rheumatoid arthritis differs from osteoarthritis. There is one major form of distinction between these two diseases. While osteoarthritis results from wear and tear in the affected areas, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. Thus, the basic causes of these two diseases are completely different in nature.
Knowing the symptoms of a disease can help you seek treatment in time to reduce its impact on your body. Here are the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis:
- Stiffness in joints that is more pronounced in the morning
- Swelling and pain in the joints
- Tender joints
- Exhaustion and weakness
- Weight loss
Rheumatoid arthritis is symmetrical in nature and generally affects the same joints on both sides of your body.
The pain from arthritis usually develops over a period of time. You may notice that the ache has started to get worse and that your joints sometimes make a cracking or popping sound. You may feel unable to move your joints as you once did before. These are clear signs that you need to reach out for a medical consultation immediately.
It is not advisable to ignore these symptoms of arthritis. If left untreated, the arthritis can progress to an extent where it damages your joints. It can also cause other health problems too. Studies show that there is a link between rheumatoid arthritis and other health complications such as heart disease and lung disease. Additionally, the inflammation caused by this form of arthritis can also affect a patient’s eyes, bones, spleen, and wrists. Therefore, we can see the importance of seeking timely treatment for rheumatoid arthritis for overall wellbeing.
Causes and risk factors
As mentioned, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. Therefore, it occurs when your immune system targets and attacks healthy cells in your body thinking that they are foreign or harmful cells.
There are certain risk factors that can increase your chances of developing this type of arthritis. They are:
- Age of the patient: While rheumatoid arthritis can affect you at any age, this condition is more commonly seen in patients who are in their middle to senior years.
- Family medical history: If a family member has had rheumatoid arthritis, you too may develop this disease at some point, thought not always.
- Being overweight: If you are overweight or obese, you have a higher risk of developing this type of arthritis. Excess weight in the body puts more pressure on the joints, particularly the knees and ankles.
- Smoking: If you smoke, you increase your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis as well as many other health conditions.
Rheumatoid arthritis and pregnancy
If you are pregnant or trying to conceive, you may have concerns about the effects of your arthritis on your baby. The good news is that women who have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis can conceive. While there is slight risk of miscarriage, you can deliver a healthy baby too provided that you take proper care of yourself.
Expectant mothers or women who are planning to have a baby soon may want to discuss their arthritis medication side-effects with their doctor. You may want to know whether the prescriptions you are on can cause any birth defects in your baby. Your doctor may stop certain medicines or regulate the doses of other medicines to ensure safety of mother and baby.
While pregnant, you also need to take good care of your health to keep your arthritis symptoms in control. Make sure to eat right and continue to exercise so that you do not gain excess weight which can strain your joints.
Women with rheumatoid arthritis can look forward to having a normal vaginal delivery of their baby. However, if there is extreme pain or discomfort in the joints, the doctor may recommend a C-section.
Looking at diagnosis and treatment
Rheumatoid arthritis is often hard to diagnose in its early stages as one may assume that joint pain is a natural sign of overuse. However, an early diagnosis can greatly improve the effectiveness of treatment given. People who are at risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis due to a family history of the disease may want to get themselves checked regularly. Ignoring the early warning signs and neglecting treatment can possibly see you lose complete use of the affected joint.
The diagnosis of this kind of arthritis generally begins with a physical examination. The doctor will inspect the affected joints and probably advise you to undergo a few diagnostic tests.
The imaging tests used for arthritis can include an X-ray, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), and an ultrasound. These tests will provide a clear picture of how much the disease has developed in your body. They can also be used to depict the progression of arthritis over time.
Furthermore, you may have to undergo a blood test as well. These tests will provide a picture of your CBC (complete blood count) as well as rheumatoid factor. The CBC will indicate whether you have a lowered count of red blood cells and anemia. The rheumatoid factor is a type of protein which is commonly found in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
Your doctor will also ask you a few questions about whether your family has a history of arthritis. Before going for your diagnosis, you may want to note down all your symptoms. This way, you will not miss out on any important information. Write down when your symptoms first began, how often your symptoms flare up, and whether you have difficulties in doing certain tasks. For example, you may want to note down if you find it hard to climb the stairs or walk.
The results of the diagnosis will determine the rheumatoid arthritis treatment that you are given. Patients are usually prescribed medication that will help with their symptoms. These medicines include corticosteroids, DMARDs, and NSAIDs.
Corticosteroids are generally prescribed to give you relief from pain. However, these medicines are known to cause side-effects, such as weight gain. Your doctor will discuss possible side-effects with you and let you know how soon you can stop taking these medications.
DMARDs is an abbreviation for disease modifying antirheumatic drugs. These medicines help to slow down the progression of this form of arthritis and also reduce the possible joint damage that may occur as a result of the disease. DMARDs may be taken as a tablet or given as an injection.
You may also be prescribed NSAIDs. NSAIDs stands for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Tue to their name, these medicines help reduce the inflammation that is caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
For maximum efficacy in medication, your doctor may generally prescribe a combination of all these medicines. Do not try to self-medicate as this can be dangerous.
Before your doctor starts you on any medication, make sure to discuss any ongoing medication or illnesses with them. This is especially important if you are being treated for any illnesses at another clinic.
In some cases, patients may require surgery for their arthritis. Surgery is recommended in cases where the pain is simply unbearable for the patient or when the patient simply cannot perform normal activities such as climbing up a flight of stairs or walking. Through surgery, the patient benefits from relief from symptoms of arthritis and also regains a lot of joint function.
Patients may be advised to undergo a total joint replacement surgery. The hip and knee are commonly selected for this procedure. A total knee replacement surgery is generally recommended for patients who have not experienced relief from their medication. These patients are generally unable to perform simple tasks such as walking and need surgery to regain flexibility in their joints. A joint replacement surgery is usually the last resort. It is also only recommended for patients whose health permits them to heal well.
In a joint replacement surgery, portions of the damaged joint are permanently removed and replaced with a prosthesis. This prosthesis may be made from plastic or metal. After the surgery, the patient may need to stay in hospital for at least a few days before being sent home. The total time taken for recovery is generally around a few months. During this period, the patient will need to take medication that gets prescribed and start physiotherapy.
A joint replacement surgery is usually only recommended when there is no hope of relief from medications alone. There may be certain complications associated with the procedure, such as a loosening of the prosthesis or blood clots. Your doctor will discuss and review the situation before deciding what is best for you.
FREEDOM ® Total Knee System from Meril
The FREEDOM total knee replacement system from Meril offers hope of improved flexibility and comfort from symptoms for patients of rheumatoid arthritis. This knee replacement system has been created with advanced design engineering technology and clinical experience. It is aimed at addressing the physiological, lifestyle, and anatomical needs of patients with arthritic complications. The FREEDOM total knee replacement system offers optimal high flexion motion with both its all-poly and metal-backed tibial component. One of the biggest advantages of the FREEDOM knee system is that it requires very minimal bone cutting.
Here are some of the other benefits of the FREEDOM total knee replacement system:
- Only 7 radii knee implant in the world
- Thin anterior flange
- Modified post-cam mechanism offers stability and posterior clearance during deep flexion
- Minimized roughness of surface of 11um for tibial trays
- 8 sizes for left and right knee
The FREEDOM total knee replacement system is USFDA approved and CE certified.
Meril is a global medical device company headquartered in India. With presence in 100+ countries, Meril has been dedicated towards the design and development of state-of-the-art medical devices. The company’s products include orthopedic supplements, vascular intervention devices, ENT devices, diagnostic devices, and in-vitro diagnostics, among others. The production process adheres to the highest standards of quality to offer real value to patients.
The manufacturing facilities of Meril follow cGMP guidelines, are ISO 13485:2003 certified and also DCG (I)-approved.
Apart from creating medical devices, Meril constantly works in collaboration with physicians to identify gaps in clinical facilities in an effort to close these gaps. Meril Academy trains doctors and paramedics in the latest techniques. The Meril Academy has simulator-based learning and world-renowned faculty members. With a total manpower of over 4000, Meril works continually towards creating best-in-class medical devices that will offer real value and comfort to patients.
Lifestyle tips for patients
Living with rheumatoid arthritis can be extremely challenging. There may be times when your pain gets quite unbearable. You doctor and physiotherapist will give you a few tips on how you can cope with your symptoms, especially pain. Here is a quick overview of how you can manage your symptoms daily.
- Get enough exercise
If you have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, you need to look after your joints with exercise. While it may be tempting to rest your joints due to the excessive pain, not moving these joints can lead to lowered flexibility.
If you experience extreme discomfort while moving, you can ask your doctor to recommend suitable exercises. They may advise you to try walking, cycling, swimming, and yoga. Remember to warm up properly and stretch before you start to exercise. Wear proper footwear and any other protective gear as advised to exercise safely.
If any exercise worsens your symptoms or increases pain, stop, and speak about it with your doctor as soon as you can.
- Rest your body
While it is important to keep your joints active and moving, it is equally essential to rest. Do not overexert as this can worsen your arthritis symptoms. You may need to take a break from your exercise routine if your joints ache badly.
Rest is especially important if you have just had surgery for arthritis. Do not exert or practice any exercises that have not been approved by your doctor or physiotherapist.
- Reach out for support
If you have just been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, you may find the sudden changes in your lifestyle hard to get used to. Understand that it’s completely normal to feel this way and that you are not alone. You may want to reach out to a support group for counselling. Your doctor may be able to help you find the right resources for counselling that can help put your mind at ease.
- Eat nutritious meals
Following a healthy diet can go a long way in improving your overall health. Make sure that your daily meals include lots of fruits and vegetables to keep your immunity levels up. You may want to cut down on your intake of sugary foods. Drink plenty of water too. Additionally, your doctor may recommend that you take certain vitamin supplements if they feel that your diet is not giving you all the nutrition you need. If you consume alcohol, make sure to limit your intake. You can check with a nutritionist how much alcohol you can safely consume with your condition. Do note that you may need to quit alcohol completely if it interferes with your medicines.
Studies show that certain foods can help in reducing inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Some of the foods that you might want to consider including in your regular meals are salmon, ginger, walnuts, beans, brown rice, peas, and quinoa.
- Quit smoking
Smoking can worsen your risk of rheumatoid arthritis and also put you at risk of developing other health conditions. If you have been diagnosed with arthritis, it is advisable to quit smoking immediately. If you find it hard to quit on your own, you may consider reaching out to a counsellor or a doctor for help in quitting. They will help you with techniques to stop the habit properly. Some people benefit immensely from nicotine replacement therapy when trying to quit smoking. You can also try working out. It helps to stay connected with others who are going through the same journey as you. Try to join a support group online or in person with others who are also trying to quit smoking.
- Work on weight management
Obesity can increase your risk of rheumatoid arthritis. If you are overweight, you need to work on shedding the extra kilograms to reduce pressure on your joints. A combination of diet and exercise can help you lose weight to stay fit. If you are excessively overweight or obese, you can consider talking to a nutritionist for a diet chart and a gym trainer to get fit. Never follow random crash diets as these may cause you to lose nutrients and fall ill.
- Work on managing stress
Stress can worsen your wellbeing and lead to many health problems. If you are living with rheumatoid arthritis, you need to work on lowering stress levels. Try to take time to do things that help you relax, such as listening to music or practicing a hobby. You can also meditate every day as doing so might help you lower stress levels.
If you live with any form of arthritis, you need to be careful about how you manage your daily activities. Follow your doctor’s advice on how to lift certain objects the right way. This will help you protect your joints while also not limiting you from living a normal life.
Let’s get rid of a few myths
While the easy availability of information on the internet makes it simple for us to get access to knowledge, it also leads to the spread of misinformation. There are many myths on rheumatoid arthritis which can interfere with your understanding of this condition. Let’s take a look at a few common myths and reveal the truth for you:
Myth 1: You shouldn’t exercise if you have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis
Fact: This is one of the most common myths surrounding this form of arthritis. The fact is that if you have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, you need to keep on exercising to keep your joints healthy. You can ask a physiotherapist to recommend exercises that will not put unnecessary pressure on your joints.
Myth 2: Arthritis only affects people who are in their senior years
Fact: While rheumatoid arthritis generally occurs in the older years of life, it can also affect some patients sooner. In fact, adults in their 30s too have been known to develop the condition.
Myth 3: You can stop your prescriptions if your symptoms improve
Fact: If you are on medication for arthritis, you need to keep taking your prescription even if your symptoms improve. It is the medication that helps keep your symptoms in control. If you suddenly stop your medication, your symptoms could show up again or, possibly, worsen. If you are worried about possible side-effects from your medication, you can always discuss your concerns with your doctor.
Myth 4: You always pass on rheumatoid arthritis to your children
Fact: While your children do face a higher risk of developing this form of arthritis, they may not always suffer from it later in life. Your children may want to consider getting regular health check-ups done as they grow older.
Myth 5: Joint damage is inevitable with arthritis
Fact: While this form of arthritis can lead to joint damage, there is a lot that can be done to prevent this damage from happening. An early diagnosis that is combined with prompt treatment can prove most effective at protecting your joints from damage.
Myth 6: The side-effects of arthritis prescriptions are reason enough to not take medication
Fact: It is important to continue your arthritis medication in order to protect your joints from long-term damage. Stopping your medicines can be detrimental to your health. Your doctor will discuss all possible side-effects of your medicines and let you know what the best course of action is. Never stop your medicines on your own.
Myth 7: An improper diet can lead to an onset of rheumatoid arthritis
Facts: There is no research that proves that certain foods directly cause rheumatoid arthritis. However, if you are already diagnosed with this health condition, your doctor may advise you to follow a nutritious diet and avoid certain foods which can possibly trigger inflammation. For instance, you may be asked to cut down on the consumption of saturated fats. Saturated fats are generally found in snacks such as pastries, biscuits, pudding, and sausages.
Do patients with rheumatoid arthritis have to take their medications for life?
Yes, patients generally need to keep taking their arthritis medications lifelong. Stopping your medicines is not advisable as it can cause your symptoms to flare up.
Is there a cure for rheumatoid arthritis?
At present, there is no known cure for this form of arthritis. Patients need to manage their symptoms with medications, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes. In more severe cases, surgery is recommended to provide relief from symptoms of the disease.
Does rheumatoid arthritis affect men and women?
Yes, both men and women can develop this type of arthritis. However, research indicates that women are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis as compared to men.
Does rheumatoid arthritis cause infertility in women?
There is no definite proof yet that this form of arthritis causes infertility in women. However, more research is being conducted for more conclusive findings.
What is an arthritis flare?
An arthritis flare refers to a phase during which your symptoms worsen. A flare usually occurs when patients stop taking their medications. It can also be triggered by stress.
Once diagnosed, how often do I need to keep visiting the rheumatologist?
The number of check-ups needed can vary between patients depending on the severity of their case. However, most patients will need to see their doctor at least once every couple of months.
Can I use alternative medicine to treat my arthritis?
It is always advisable to consult with your doctor before trying out any alternative or herbal remedies. Your doctor will be able to advise you on the extent of your condition and whether it is safe to explore other forms of treatment. Never change the course of treatment of arthritis on your own as this can prove to be detrimental to your wellbeing.
Does rheumatoid arthritis effect the brain?
Research shows that this form of arthritis may cause problems with thinking clearly and affect the ability to concentrate.
What is the best remedy for arthritic pain?
A heat pad can help in providing relief from pain caused due to arthritis. You can also consider sitting in warm bath water. If you feel that your pain has suddenly flared up, check whether you have been missing out on doses of your prescription. You may want to report any sudden changes in symptoms – such as a worsening of symptoms – to your doctor immediately.
Living with a chronic condition like arthritis can be quite challenging. Initially, it may be tough to go to work or even carry out regular activities like before. However, following your doctor’s advice on lifestyle habits and going for regular check-ups can make a huge difference. Remember to never put excessive pressure on the joints that have been affected by your arthritis. Take one day at a time and give your body enough rest while also eating right and staying fit.
We hope that this blog has helped you gain a better understanding of rheumatoid arthritis today.