Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder which means the body’s immune system (body’s defence system) mistakenly attacks its own tissue causing pain and swelling in the wrist and small joints of the hand and feet. In severe cases occurring over a long period of time can lead to bone erosion and joint deformity.
According to a survey, it has been stated that a total of about 7 million people in India are affected by rheumatoid arthritis. The prevalence of Rheumatoid Arthritis in India is reported to be higher than China, Philippines, Indonesia, and rural Africa. The occurrence of Rheumatoid Arthritis is reported to be more common in women than in men. However, the main trigger factor for RA is still unknown.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms
The rheumatoid arthritis symptoms during its early stage are as follows:
- Joint pain
- Joint swelling
- Joint tenderness
- Joint stiffness
- Joint redness
- Joint warmth
- Polyarthritis(more than one joint is affected)
Along with the above rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, many people experience low-grade fever, loss of appetite and fatigue. The rheumatoid arthritis symptoms may be occasional but in severe cases, problems can be seen throughout the body. Rheumatoid arthritis can also affect other organs like:
- Pain, dryness, and redness in the eyes, high sensitivity to light, impaired vision
- Dryness and gum irritation or infection in the mouth
- Small lumps under the skin over bony areas may appear
- Shortness of breath due to inflammation and scarring of lungs
- Damage in the nerves and other organs due to inflammation of blood vessels
- Reduction in the normal number of red blood cells causing anaemia
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Rheumatoid arthritis occurs through several stages which are listed below:
Rheumatoid arthritis causes several body changes as the disease progress. There are some changes that can be noticed and felt while some changes cannot be seen nor felt. Progression through all the stages may take many years and some people don’t progress through all the stages within their lifetime. The different stages of Rheumatoid Arthritis are as follows:
- Stage 1: Swelling of the tissues and inflammation in the joints are common in the first stage. Patients may experience joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. In this stage, there is no erosion or damage in the bones but the joint lining called the synovium is inflamed.
- Stage 2: In this moderate stage, the joint cartilage (protects the ends of bones at the joints) is damaged due to the inflammation of the synovium. The patient may experience loss of mobility and pain.
- Stage 3: This is the severe stage of RA. Once rheumatoid arthritis has progressed to this stage the damage does not restrict to the cartilage but extends to the bones. Since the cartilage which protects the ends of the bones get completely damaged in this stage, the bones rub together resulting in more pain and swelling. Muscle weakness, loss of mobility and deformity may occur in this severe stage.
- Stage 4: There is no longer an inflammation in stage 4. During this end stage, the joints no longer work but swelling, pain, mobility loss, muscle weakness, and stiffness can still be experienced by the patients. The joints are completely damaged in this stage and the bones are fused together (ankylosis).
The course of the Rheumatoid arthritis disease varies from person to person; therefore it is hard to calculate the impact of the disease on a person’s life expectancy. Many people can lead a healthy and active life with Rheumatoid arthritis but it is possible for Rheumatoid arthritis to decrease life expectancy by around 10 to 15 years.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Causes
Rheumatoid arthritis causes are yet to be known by scientists. However, there are certain factors that trigger rheumatoid arthritis which escalates the risk of developing Rheumatoid arthritis. The following factors that increase the risk of Rheumatoid arthritis include:
- More common in women
- having a family history of Rheumatoid arthritis
Factors that may trigger Rheumatoid Arthritis include:
- Exposure to some bacteria types, for instance, bacteria that are related to periodontal disease
- Having a past record of viral infections like infection with the Epstein-Barr virus, which causes mononucleosis
- Injury or trauma, such as a fracture in the bones, ligament damage and dislocation of a joint
- Smoking cigarettes