Are you or anyone you know experiencing joint pain and inflammation? Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune condition that affects over 1.3 million Americans. Apart from joints, it can also affect other parts of the body. With about 1% of the world’s population affected, it’s widespread. However, only some know what causes rheumatoid arthritis and how it can be managed effectively.

Coastal Orthopedics is dedicated to providing comprehensive information about rheumatoid arthritis and raising awareness. If you are one of the many people experiencing RA, read on to learn more.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that targets the joints. Unlike other forms of arthritis, RA affects both sides of the body simultaneously.

Commonly affected areas include fingers, hands, wrists, knees, ankles, feet, and toes. The persistent inflammation associated with RA damages the cartilage, a crucial cushioning component within joints, resulting in its gradual breakdown. This degradation can eventually lead to joint deformities and erosion of the bone, often causing joint fusion as a protective measure against continuous irritation.

The root cause of RA is specific immune system cells that drive the inflammatory response. Although these cells are generated primarily within the joints, they can spread throughout the body, causing symptoms beyond joint pain and swelling. RA can also affect other bodily systems, such as the skin, eyes, mouth, lungs, and heart.

What Are the Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?

The impact of rheumatoid arthritis is different for each person. Some people may experience joint symptoms gradually over a few years, while others may experience a rapid progression. The condition also causes alternating periods of symptoms, known as flares, and symptom-free intervals, known as remission.

Common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Pain, swelling, stiffness, and tenderness in multiple joints.
  • Morning stiffness or stiffness after prolonged periods of inactivity.
  • Pain and stiffness affect the same joints on both sides of the body.
  • Fatigue is characterized by extreme tiredness.
  • Weakness.
  • Fever.

What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is classified as an autoimmune disease. Ordinarily, the immune system safeguards the body from infections and illnesses. However, in rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system erroneously targets healthy tissue within the joints, leading to inflammation and damage. Additionally, this autoimmune condition can affect various organs and systems in the body, including the heart, lungs, nerves, eyes, and skin.

Medical professionals remain unclear on the precise trigger for this immune system malfunction, although a genetic predisposition is suspected. While genes do not directly cause rheumatoid arthritis, they may heighten one’s susceptibility to environmental factors, such as specific viral or bacterial infections, which could instigate the onset of the disease.

Risk Factors

Factors that could elevate your susceptibility to rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Gender: Women are more prone to developing rheumatoid arthritis compared to men.
  • Age: Although rheumatoid arthritis can manifest at any age, its onset typically occurs during middle age.
  • Family History: Having a family member with rheumatoid arthritis may increase your risk of developing the condition.
  • Smoking: Cigarette smoking can heighten the likelihood of rheumatoid arthritis, especially if there’s a genetic predisposition. Additionally, smoking has been linked to increased disease severity.
  • Excess Weight: Individuals who are overweight may have a slightly elevated risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

How Is Rheumatoid Arthritis Managed and Treated?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can significantly impact various aspects of daily life, such as work, leisure activities, and social engagements. Nevertheless, many cost-effective strategies available in the community have been proven to enhance the quality of life for individuals with RA.

Some tips for managing at home include: 

  • Stay Physically Active: Experts recommend that adults engage in moderate physical activity for at least 150 minutes per week, including walking, swimming, or biking for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Alternatively, breaking these sessions into shorter intervals, like three ten-minute daily sessions, can be effective. Apart from managing RA symptoms, regular physical activity can also help reduce the risk of developing other chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and depression.
  • Participate in Physical Activity Programs: Joining physical activity programs can alleviate concerns about exacerbating arthritis symptoms and provide guidance on safe exercise practices. These programs, often available at local YMCAs, parks, and community centers, can help reduce the pain and disability associated with RA while improving mood and mobility.
  • Attend Self-Management Education Classes: Enrolling in self-management education classes tailored for arthritis, including RA, can empower participants to effectively control their symptoms and learn strategies for living well with the condition. These classes provide valuable insights into managing arthritis-related challenges and understanding their impact on daily life.
  • Quit Smoking: Cigarette smoking exacerbates the symptoms of RA and contributes to other health complications. Quitting smoking can be challenging, but it is important for managing RA effectively. 
  • Maintain a Healthy Weight: Obesity can pose numerous challenges for individuals with RA, making it important to maintain a healthy weight. Adopting a balanced diet and incorporating regular physical activity can help manage weight and alleviate additional strain on joints affected by RA. For further guidance on achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, resources like the CDC Healthy Weight website offer valuable information and support.

By incorporating these strategies into their daily lives, individuals with RA can improve their overall well-being and better manage the challenges associated with the condition.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment Options

The objectives of treating RA are as follows:

  • Halt or minimize inflammation to achieve remission.
  • Alleviate symptoms.
  • Prevent damage to joints and organs.
  • Enhance function and overall well-being.
  • Mitigate long-term complications.

After an assessment, your doctor will likely follow these steps to get you relief: 

  • Initiate early, aggressive treatment to swiftly mitigate or halt inflammation.
  • Aim for remission or another specified target, such as achieving minimal to no signs of active inflammation (known as “treat-to-target”).
  • Maintain strict control to minimize inflammation as much as possible.

Next Steps for Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain Relief

Understanding the underlying causes of rheumatoid arthritis allows for effective management and treatment. 

If you’re experiencing persistent joint pain or swelling, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with Coastal Orthopedics today. Our team of specialists is dedicated to providing personalized care and comprehensive treatment options tailored to your needs.