Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune and systematic disease, which means the immune system attacks its own healthy cells in the patient’s body mistaking them for foreign invaders. In most cases this may lead to painful inflammation in the affected body areas.
RA primarily attacks the joints, usually multiple joints at once such as the wrists, hands and knees. RA causes joint damage on both sides of the body. For instance, if the right arm or leg is affected, the left arm or leg will probably be affected too. When RA affects a joint, the lining of the joint becomes inflamed and this causes damage to the joint tissue. The tissue damage can cause chronic pain, unsteadiness and deformity. RA can also cause problems in organs such as the heart, lungs and eyes.
Causes of Rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the immune system attacks its own healthy cells by mistake, but the specific causes of RA are unknown. However, there are risk factors that may increase the chances of one having the condition. These include:
- Sex: Women are usually considered more likely to have rheumatoid arthritis at some stage in their lives.
- Lifestyle: Smoking and obesity increase the risk of having RA
- Genetics: Genetics have been known to play a big role in RA. If a family member has the disease, then the risks become higher.
- Age: Although Rheumatoid Arthritis can occur at any age, people who are in their middle age are at higher risks.
Symptoms of Rheumatoid arthritis
With Rheumatoid arthritis, sometimes the symptoms can become worse. This is known as flares. However, they can also get better, and this is known as remission.
Symptoms of RA include:
- Pain, stiffness and swelling in more than one joint
- Symmetrical joint involvement
- Unsteadiness when walking
- Joint deformity
- Generally feeling unwell
- Loss of mobility and function
- Weight loss
Diagnosis Rheumatoid arthritis
It can be difficult to diagnose RA in its early stages as it tends to resemble other conditions. However, early diagnosis and treatment can help in slowing down its progression.
You physician will look at the standard clinical signs of inflammation and enquire how long they’ve been there and their severity. He/she will then carry out a physical examination to check for any functional limitations, swelling or deformity.
They will then recommend some tests which may include:
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR or sed rate): This test is done to assess the levels of inflammation in the body.
- C-reactive protein (CRP): CRP is produced by the liver and a higher CRP level would suggest that there is inflammation in the body.
- Anaemia: A large number of RA patients also have anaemia. Anaemia occurs when the red blood cells in the blood are too few.
- Rheumatoid factor: This is an antibody and if it is present in the blood, it can indicate the possibility of RA presence, although not everyone with RA tests positive for the rheumatoid factor.
X-rays and Imaging scans
An X-ray or MRI of a joint can help a physician in identifying the type of arthritis present and also monitor the RA’s progress over time.
Treatment of Rheumatoid arthritis
There is currently no known cure for Rheumatoid arthritis, but it can be effectively treated and managed with medications as well as self-management strategies.
Treatment for Rheumatoid arthritis includes medications to slow down the disease and prevent joint deformity. These medications include disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biological response modifiers (biologicals).
In addition to medications, individuals can manage their RA with self-management strategies that are proven to minimize pain and disability such as occupational therapy.
At King’s College Hospital Dubai, we focus on offering an exemplary service, from initial consultation through to final diagnosis and treatment and beyond. Our multidisciplinary team of expert doctors, nurses, physio therapists are here to offer tailored management and treatment of your condition, and to answer any questions that you might have throughout your time with us. Whatever you need us for, we’re only a phone-call away.
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Dr Tharaq Barami is considered the best Rheumatologist in Dubai.