Approximately 1% of the world population suffers from painful swelling of the joints that is due to rheumatoid arthritis. But what is rheumatoid arthritis? And how does it differ from a similarly joint-degenerative disorder, osteoarthritis? The following discusses what is rheumatoid arthritis, its causes, and symptoms.
What is rheumatoid arthritis?
It is a chronic systemic inflammatory disorder that primarily affects the synovium or the lining surrounding the joints. Various parts of the body, including the skin, heart, lungs, blood vessels, and muscles, can also be affected by rheumatoid arthritis. The cause of the disorder is said to be due to the exposure of a genetically predisposed individual to an unknown factor (perhaps a virus or bacteria), causing the cells of the immune system to attack the body’s tissues. The disorder is commonly observed in women two to three times more frequently than in men, and also in older people 40 to 70 years of age.
People usually don’t know what is rheumatoid arthritis and its difference from other arthritic disorders. In contrast to its common kin, osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease which does not involve immune cells attacking the joints. Osteoarthritis is observed when joints are overused, such as in challenging sports, and obese or aged individuals.
What causes rheumatoid arthritis?
Genes may play a role in the development of rheumatoid arthritis in the individual. Exposure of a susceptible individual to an unidentified factor triggers the disorder. Most commonly, the joints become thick and swollen. When the synovium is attacked by the body’s immune cells, the membrane becomes stiff and erodes over time. The cartilage and bone are destroyed, and other connective tissues are weakened.
In about 25% of cases, patients develop rheumatoid nodules on the skin, usually in the fingers, heels, elbows, forearm, and back of the neck. Occasionally, the nodules are found in the heart, lungs, spleen, and other internal organs. The nodules are round to oval in shape and are non-tender. Antirheumatic drugs and steroids may shrink rheumatic nodules, except methotrexate, an antirheumatic drug that is thought to contribute to nodule growth.
What are the symptoms?
Aside from painful, swollen joints, patients experience malaise, fatigue, and muscular pain. The disorder is of slow onset, but in about 10% of cases, severe symptoms develop quickly. The small joints such as those in the hands and feet are affected first, followed by the bones of the wrists, ankles, elbows, and knees, as well as the neck and the hips. Remission is observed in some cases, but symptoms may return and affect other joints. These are just some of the overlying things one should know when studying what is rheumatoid arthritis.