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Understanding Rheumatoid Arthritis by Chuck Wensler

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Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a very painful and debilitating common form of arthritis.  It is an inflammation in the lining of the joints, causing warmth, diminishing range of motion and swelling, thereby creating severe joint pain.  RA damages all of the joints of the body including, bone, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons.  In the United States alone, roughly one percent of the population or 1.3 million people have been diagnosed with RA.  There are three times as many women with RA as there are men.  In women, the disease can begin as early as age 30 and as late as age 60, but anyone can get RA at any age, even children.  The disease knows no boundaries and can be found all over the world.

The cause of RA isn’t known, but we do know that the body’s immune system plays an important role in inflammation and joint damage.  The immune system is the body’s defense against bacteria, virus,es and other foreign cells. With RA your body’s immune system mistakes cells found in your joints and other organs as foreign and it attacks them to protect your body.  In these attacks, fluids build up causing inflammation, redness and pain in the joint.  If the inflammation continues, it leads to cartilage damage, (the protective lining that covers the ends of your bones). Bone rubs against bone and the joint becomes unstable and painful causing the loss of mobility.

Genes play an important role in RA, but some of the genes that are known in RA are common and found in people who never develop RA. Why is this?  This is still an area of research.  It has recently been learned that smoking increases the development of RA.  Current research involves factors such as infection, injury, hormonal changes, and environmental factors, any, all or none of which may lead to the development of RA.

RA symptoms and the course of the disease may vary with each individual.  Joint symptoms may change day by day as well as the severity of the disease.  One day you could have mild symptoms and the next day have a flare with severe pain and swelling.  In other people RA can continuously be active, worsening with time.

Medications used to treat RA are those which have the potential to relieve your symptoms and those which may modify the disease.  Each medication has a distinct purpose in the treatment of RA, but as of yet there is no known cure.

Arthritis Foundation. Rheumatoid Arthritis. Retrieved on October 8, 2011, from:


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