Rheumatoid arthritis is just one of many types of arthritis, a group of conditions that impact the bones, cartilage and other elements of joints. Women are three times more likely than men to have rheumatoid arthritis.
Unlike the more common osteoarthritis, which seems to be caused by age-related concerns, obesity and general wear and tear, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. This means that a problem with the body’s immune system causes it to inadvertently attack itself. With rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system is attacking the joints.
Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Though the cause of rheumatoid arthritis isn’t exactly clear, researchers do have some theories as to why some people are more likely to have it than others. There seem to be both genetic and environmental factors at play in rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, smoking may increase risk or increase the intensity of the disease. In some cases, it may in part be due to the body’s response to another illness or to other stresses.
Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Similar to other forms of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis causes joint pain and swelling. With rheumatoid arthritis, however, the intensity of the pain seems to come and go in episodes called “flares.” Over time, the disease can worsen and lead to greater pain and even joint deformities and disabilities as the bones gradually deteriorate as a result of the condition.
Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Though there's currently no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, it can be managed through medication and therapies. Corticosteroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help manage the pain. Also, drugs called disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biologic agents have become increasingly effective at directly treating rheumatoid arthritis and sometimes putting it into remission. Regular exercise also seems to be highly effective in keeping the body mobile and fighting the effects of the disease.
SOURCES: Arthritis Foundation; American College of Rheumatology.