What is it?

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a very common inflammatory disease generally suffered by older adults. RA is a condition triggered by the immune system, when it attacks cells within the joint and causes usually permanent damage.  RA causes pain in the joints, swelling, mobility difficulties and  has been proven to reduce life expectancy in both genders.

What Happens?

Rheumatoid arthritis generally occurs in a symmetrical pattern. This means that if one knee or hand is involved, the other one is also. The disease often affects the wrist joints and the finger joints closest to the hand. It can also affect other parts of the body besides the joints. In addition, people with the disease may have fatigue, occasional fever, and a general sense of not feeling well. Another feature of rheumatoid arthritis is that it varies a lot from person to person. For some people, it lasts only a few months or a year or two and goes away without causing any noticeable damage. Other people have mild or moderate disease, with periods of worsening symptoms, called flares, and periods in which they feel better, called remissions. Still others have severe disease that is active most of the time, lasts for many years, and leads to serious joint damage and disability.

Why Does it Happen?

A normal joint is surrounded by a joint capsule that protects and supports it. Cartilage covers and cushions the ends of the two bones. The joint capsule is lined with a type of tissue called synovium, which produces synovial fluid. This clear fluid lubricates and nourishes the cartilage and bones inside the joint capsule. In rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system, for unknown reasons, attacks a person's own cells inside the joint capsule. White blood cells that are part of the normal immune system travel to the synovium and cause a reaction.

Can I prevent or stop it?

Studies have not conclusively proven that the steps listed below will help the condition, however many people report that they have contributed to some relief. The suggestions below all contribute to overall good health, as a result, using them to relieve rheumatoid arthritis carries no particular risk.

- Rest and exercise: Take more rest when the disease is active and more exercise when it is not.
- Care of joints: Some people find using a splint on the affected joints reduces pain and swelling.
- Stress reduction: While not a direct cause of the disease, stress can make symptoms worse and make living with the condition more difficult. Try various relaxation techniques especially when the disease is more active.
- Diet: A healthful diet helps the body cope with all conditions and diseases better. No specific foods are recommended, so look to Health Canada’s recommendations for a healthy diet.

Treatment

Medications: Some medications are used only for pain relief; others are used to reduce inflammation. Still others – often called disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, or DMARDS -  are used to try and slow the course of the disease.

Surgery: Several types of surgery are available to patients with severe joint damage. The primary purpose of these procedures is to reduce pain, improve the affected joint's function, and improve the patient's ability to perform daily activities. Commonly performed surgical procedures include joint replacement, tendon reconstruction, and synovectomy.

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