Almost everyone is familiar with arthritis – if you haven’t experienced this common complaint of advancing age yourself, it’s very likely a friend or family member can tell you all about it. But you may also have heard of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). Is it the same thing as your grandmother’s arthritis? Definitely not. Here’s what you need to know about RA.
What’s the Difference?
In its common form, arthritis, or osteoarthritis, is pain and swelling in the joints caused by natural wear and tear, most often with age. But RA is actually a disease that falls on the autoimmune disorder spectrum. With an autoimmune disorder, the body’s immune system (for reasons that are mostly unknown) attacks the body’s own tissues, instead of invaders like viruses or bacteria. There is currently no cure for RA, but like osteoarthritis, it can be managed with the right treatment.
What Are the Symptoms?
With RA, the faulty immune system attacks the lining of the joints. Symptoms typically first appear in the small joints of the fingers, toes, hands and feet, but the trouble can progress throughout the body, affecting major joints like the hips, shoulders and spine. Several symptoms can be warning signs of RA:
- Morning stiffness that lasts into the day
- Painful, swollen joints that may be warm to the touch
- Bumps of tissue under the skin
- Weight loss
- A chronic low fever
RA usually affects your body symmetrically: that means, for example, that both knees will be affected, instead of just one. Like many autoimmune disorders, it’s an unpredictable disease with “flares” that can seem to come and go. But without proper treatment, it can progress to skin, eye, blood vessel and organ damage. It also raises the risk of osteoporosis, and in severe cases, can cause deformity and disability.
Who’s At Risk?
Know your family history. If someone else in your family has this disease, it can raise your own risk, as autoimmune disorders can have a genetic component. RA can strike people of any age, but it most often appears in people between age 40 and 60. Women have a higher risk of the disorder than men do.
What to Do?
RA can be painful, but help is available. If you’re experiencing RA symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible for a proper diagnosis. There are many medicines and therapies that can slow the progression of RA and make life more comfortable.
Your doctor may recommend getting regular exercise to strengthen your muscles and bones and keep your spirits up. When your symptoms are under control, a gentle stretching and exercise program can preserve your flexibility, motion and strength. If you’re being treated for RA, the doctors at Non-Surgical Orthopaedics can help keep your body in good shape. Schedule an appointment today by calling (770) 421-1420 or clicking on our web contact form.