A Concise Guide to Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis continues to be a common disease throughout the United States. Recent statistics indicate that approximately 1.3 million Americans suffer from this complex disease that can lead to varying degrees of symptoms. While research continues to be performed on the topic of rheumatoid arthritis, we still don’t fully understand the various causes of this illness.
What is rheumatoid arthritis? What do we know about the causes and symptoms of this disease? What are the current medical and alternative therapies used to combat this illness? The following information will dive a little deeper into these important questions surrounding the topic of rheumatoid arthritis.
What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic form of arthritis that affects over one million people throughout the United States. Unlike some other forms of arthritis, RA is considered an autoimmune disease. This means that for unknown reasons, the body begins to produce antibodies that attack the joints, leading to a state of chronic inflammation. This process generally triggers bothersome symptoms including joint pain, swelling, and other serious problems. Women are at a much higher risk of developing RA, but this condition can affect men and even children as well.
Causes, Signs, and Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
At this time, researchers don’t fully understand what causes some people to develop autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. The main thing that medical professionals are aware of is the fact that RA results from an improper immune response to some type of trigger. It is not yet known whether the trigger that sets off this response could be environmental, genetic, or stem from an entirely different cause.
Signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can vary a great deal between sufferers. The condition does not affect all people in the exact same manner. However, the symptoms below are some of the most commonly reported signs of the possible existence of RA.
- Red and/or swollen joints that can be hot to the touch
- Joint stiffness that can be severe first thing in the morning
- Chronic fatigue
- Persistent fever and unintentional weight loss
Since rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic autoimmune illness, it can affect different joints depending on the individual. Additionally, RA can cause symptoms in other body parts unrelated to the joints themselves. It is not necessary for a patient to have all of these symptoms in order for a serious health condition to be present, nor does the existence of these symptoms signify an automatic diagnosis of RA.
Common Treatment Options for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Since there is currently no known cure for RA, the goal of treatment involves minimizing discomfort for the patient, achieving remission if possible, and preventing further damage to the joints down the line. Medical treatment modalities can be divided into a few basic categories, such as the ones that follow.
Steroids such as prednisone are often used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis to better control the painful swelling that accompanies this disease. Steroids can be administered intravenously, via oral medication, or delivered by injection directly into the affected joints.
Over-the-counter and prescription strength NSAIDS can be used to relieve the pain associated with RA. NSAIDS also help to reduce swelling and to improve range of motion with the affected joints.
Specific medications referred to as disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs have been shown to relieve both current symptoms and alter the course of the disease for the better. One of the most commonly used anti-rheumatic medications for the treatment of RA is called Methotrexate.
Again, it is important to remember that these treatment options are not designed to be a cure for rheumatoid arthritis. With proper treatment and monitoring, however, many sufferers will see a drastic reduction in bothersome symptoms.
Alternative Remedies for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Natural and otherwise alternative treatments for rheumatoid arthritis are continually being analyzed for effectiveness and efficacy. While much more research into alternative options is needed, the following remedies may be helpful for those suffering from RA.
SAM-e is a supplement that has natural pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties. Two introductory studies have indicated some degree of benefit in those suffering from RA, but more research is needed.
Capsaicin is a compound that is naturally present in hot peppers. It has been shown to reduce a specific pain receptor in the body, resulting in an analgesic effect. It can be taken as a supplement or applied in the form of a gel directly to the affected joints.
The cooking spice known as turmeric contains a compound called curcumin. This compound has been shown to reduce inflammation and pain from a variety of causes, including that associated with RA.
These are just a few of the possible alternative treatments that may be helpful for reducing the bothersome symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Some patients also experience benefits by experimenting with their diet. For example, some patients find that they are sensitive to foods in the nightshade family, such as tomatoes and potatoes. By removing these foods from their diet, they may experience a reduction in joint pain and swelling.
Prognosis and Upcoming Advancements in Treatment Options
While the presence of rheumatoid arthritis doesn’t necessarily shorten an individual’s life expectancy, it often leads to a worsening degree of pain and other symptoms as time goes on. These are problems that can drastically impact a patient’s quality of life. The goal of treatment is to keep the patient in remission for as long as possible, allowing him to experience a normal or near-normal quality of life.
Over the past couple of decades, scientific advancements for the treatment of this painful and debilitating condition have been made. It is quite possible that biological agents and targeted medicine could be used down the line to enhance a patient’s immune system and teach it to better fight the disease on its own. The drugs and therapies that can accomplish this are referred to as immunotherapy treatments.
For those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, the road to recovery can be long and difficult. Since an estimated 1.3 million Americans suffer from this life-altering condition, it is easy to see that much additional research is needed to investigate new ways to treat it. The information gathered above can arm patients, their caregivers, and loved ones with the information needed to make informed decisions about treatment options. Not all treatments are right for every individual. Therefore, a varied response between patients is to be expected. However, with compassionate care and a variety of medical and alternative options for reducing symptoms, many RA patients have been able to find relief from this condition.