Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a systemic autoimmune disease that involves chronic inflammation primarily in your joints. Depending on the severity, RA can affect other tissues throughout the body and cause problems in major organs.

What causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?

While it’s not known what exactly triggers RA, the immune system attacks the healthy body tissue when you have an autoimmune condition. If you have RA, your immune system begins to attack the synovium, the tissue that lines the inner surface of your joints and eventually causes pain and inflammation.

What are the risk factors for Rheumatoid Arthritis?

RA has several factors that can increase the risk of development, including:

  • sex – women are two to three times more likely to be diagnosed than men
  • genes – risk is low as they do not play a big role in the condition
  • age – RA can develop at any age, but typical onset is between age 30 and 60
  • smoking history
  • excess weight/obesity

According to the National Library of Medicine,“RA is more prevalent in women compared to men, with a lifetime risk of RA 3.6% in women compared to 1.7% in men.”

What are the symptoms?

RA typically causes swelling, joint pain and stiffness and can progress gradually or quickly. In early stages, RA typically affects smaller joints such as your toes and fingers. As the condition progresses, it will start to spread to other joints such as the wrists, knees, ankles, elbows, hips and shoulders. RA is also unique in that the symptoms are symmetrical and will affect both sides of the body. Similar to another type of arthritis, osteoarthritis both of these types can cause morning stiffness. However, morning stiffness in osteoarthritis lasts up to 30 minutes, while RA can last an hour or longer.

Some additional symptoms may include:

  • fatigue
  • fever
  • weight loss

What are ways to prevent Rheumatoid Arthritis?

While there’s no one way to prevent getting RA, there are  steps you can take to help reduce your risk and improve your quality of life. Some of these include:

  • stop smoking
  • maintain a healthy weight
  • exercise regularly
  • maintain good oral hygiene as patients with RA can experience mouth problems such as gum disease.

Diagnosis and treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis:

Patients with symptoms of arthritis may be referred to a rheumatologist—a physician who specializes in arthritis. A rheumatologist determines if RA is present by doing a physical exam, and assessing medical and family history, and performing blood tests and imaging studies.

According to Dr. Ahmed Aitezaz of Mather Rheumatology, “The treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis has advanced significantly over the past 20 years. If you think you have Rheumatoid Arthritis, see a rheumatologist to be tested and diagnosed. There are many effective treatment options now available to patients.”

It’s important to diagnose RA quickly as your doctor can provide you with a treatment plan that will help avoid long-term issues, like the development of other chronic diseases. Once diagnosed, your doctor will provide a treatment plan specific to your age, sex, medical history, and severity of the case. There is no cure for RA, but a combination of treatments can help improve your overall quality of life and help decrease inflammation and swelling that RA causes. These include:

  • lifestyle changes (diet, exercise, quit smoking, etc.)
  • physical and occupational therapy
  • medicine
  • surgery