What is Rheumatoid Arthritis? Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a form of arthritis that causes chronic (long lasting) inflammation in the lining that affects joints and even some organs. Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis include pain, stiffness and inflammation in the joints as well as fatigue. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, meaning a person’s immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s tissues. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, the tissue is the lining around the joints. RA can cause permanent damage and deformation in the joints as well as bone erosion. If not adequately treated, RA can lead to loss of mobility and function in the affected joints and bones.
Rheumatoid Arthritis can also affect some of the body’s organs. As a result chronic inflammation associated with RA, the kidneys can develop renal amyloidosis. People with RA may develop fibrosis of the lungs as well as pleural effusions. Approximately 25% of Americans with rheumatoid arthritis will develop Rheumatoid Lung Disease. Myocardial infarction (heart attack) and stroke are also risks increased by RA. It is common for symptoms of RA to have bouts of flares, when the disease is active, and remissions, when the disease is inactive. Remission can occur randomly or as a result of treatment and can last anywhere from weeks to years. When remission occurs, symptoms disappear.
What causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Not much is known about the cause of rheumatoid arthritis other than it is an autoimmune disorder. For reasons unknown to scientists, the body’s immune system mistakes healthy tissue for harmful antigens and begins to attack. In cases of RA, the immune system targets the lining around the joints and some organs. This results in the joints becoming inflamed, stiff, and painful and can also create problems for organs like the lungs and kidneys.
Common treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis:
There is no known cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis so the goal for treatments is to relieve pain and symptoms of RA as well as to prevent further damage to joints. There are medications available to help treat RA and they are generally divided into two groups: to relieve symptoms (NSAIDs) and to bring on remission (DMARDs).
Medications used to treat pain and inflammation in the joints include NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen, i.e. Advil and Aleve. Corticosteroid are usually prescribed for severe symptoms and are injected into the joints for short-term relief from pain and swelling.
Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are prescribed to prevent permanent damage caused by RA and to bring on remission. Because DMARDs take a long time to become effective (sometimes months), they are usually taken alongside NSAIDs and corticosteroids to help with pain and inflammation. The most common DMARDs used to treat Rheumatoid Arthritis are Azulfidine, auranofin (Ridaura), and leflunomide (Arava). These drugs suppress the immune system, making it unable to attack healthy tissue. Because of this, though, people taking DMARDs are at a higher risk of not being able to fight infections.