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Rheumatoid Arthritis

What Rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disorder that primarily affects the joints, causing inflammation, pain, stiffness, and swelling. Unlike osteoarthritis, which is a degenerative joint disease, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition where the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own tissues, particularly the synovium, the lining of the joints.

 

In rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system targets the synovium, leading to inflammation and thickening of the joint lining. Over time, this inflammation can damage cartilage and bone within the joint, causing deformities and joint instability. Rheumatoid arthritis commonly affects the small joints of the hands and feet, although it can also involve larger joints such as the knees, hips, and shoulders. In some cases, rheumatoid arthritis can affect other organs and systems of the body, including the skin, eyes, lungs, and cardiovascular system.

Risk factors

The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not fully understood, but it is believed to involve a combination of genetic, environmental, and hormonal factors. Some risk factors may include:

  1. Your sex. Women are more likely than men to develop rheumatoid arthritis.

  2. Age. Rheumatoid arthritis can occur at any age, but it most commonly begins in middle age.

  3. Family history. If a member of your family has rheumatoid arthritis, you may have an increased risk of the disease.

  4. Smoking. Cigarette smoking increases your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, particularly if you have a genetic predisposition for developing the disease. Smoking also appears to be associated with greater disease severity.

  5. Excess weight. People who are overweight appear to be at a somewhat higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Symptoms

  1. Joint pain: Persistent pain, swelling, and tenderness in affected joints, often symmetrical on both sides of the body.

  2. Morning stiffness: Stiffness and difficulty moving joints, particularly in the morning or after periods of inactivity.

  3. Fatigue: Generalized fatigue and weakness, often accompanied by malaise and a feeling of being unwell.

  4. Joint deformities: Over time, rheumatoid arthritis can lead to joint deformities, such as swan neck deformity (in the fingers), boutonniere deformity, and ulnar deviation.

  5. Systemic symptoms: Rheumatoid arthritis can cause systemic symptoms such as fever, weight loss, and loss of appetite.

  6. Rheumatoid nodules: Firm lumps under the skin, typically occurring over bony prominences or pressure points.

Treatment options

Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis aims to reduce inflammation, alleviate pain, preserve joint function, and prevent joint damage. This may involve a combination of medications, physical therapy, lifestyle modifications, and in some cases, surgery. Early diagnosis and aggressive treatment are often important for managing rheumatoid arthritis and minimising complications.

Can exercise help?

Exercise can be highly beneficial for managing rheumatoid arthritis (RA) by:

 

  1. Improves joint range of motion: Regular exercise helps to maintain or improve joint range of motion, reducing stiffness and preventing joint deformities associated with RA.

  2. Strengthens muscles: Strengthening exercises help to support and stabilize the joints affected by RA, reducing pain and improving joint function.

  3. Reduces inflammation: While exercise itself does not directly reduce inflammation in RA, regular physical activity has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects, which may help to alleviate symptoms and improve overall joint health.

  4. Boosts mood and mental well-being: Exercise releases endorphins, which can improve mood, reduce stress, and enhance overall mental well-being, important factors in managing RA.

  5. Maintains bone health: Weight-bearing and resistance exercises help to preserve bone density and strength, reducing the risk of osteoporosis, a common complication of RA.

  6. Improves cardiovascular health: Aerobic exercise, such as walking, swimming, or cycling, improves cardiovascular fitness and reduces the risk of heart disease, which is elevated in individuals with RA.

  7. Promotes weight management:  Regular physical activity helps to control body weight and reduce excess stress on weight-bearing joints, such as the knees and hips, which can alleviate pain and improve mobility.

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