Feb14 Arthritis Q & A

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The Truth About Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
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  Page 18 — Healthy Cells Magazine — Peoria — February 2014  The Truth AboutRheumatoid Arthritis (RA) (Part 1 of a Series) Information provided by the Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases R heumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory disease that causes pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of function in the joints. It occurs when the immune system, which normally defends the body from invading organisms, turns its attack against the membrane lining the joints. Who Has Rheumatoid Arthritis?  Scientists estimate that about 1.5 million people, or about 0.6 percent of the U.S. adult population, have rheumatoid arthritis. 1  Interestingly, some recent studies have suggested that although the number of new cases of rheumatoid arthritis for older people is increasing, the overall number of new cases may actually be going down. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs in all races and ethnic groups. Although the disease often begins in middle age and occurs with increased frequency in older people, older teenagers and young adults may also be diagnosed with the disease. (Children and younger teenagers may be diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis, a condition related to rheumatoid arthritis.) Like some other forms of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis occurs much more frequently in women than in men.  About two to three times as many women as men have the disease. What Happens in Rheumatoid Arthritis?  Rheumatoid arthritis is primarily a disease of the  joints. A joint is the point where two or more bones come together. With a few exceptions (in the skull and pelvis, for example), joints are designed to allow movement between the bones and to absorb shock from movements like walking or repetitive motions.  The ends of the bones are covered by a tough, elastic tissue called cartilage. The joint is surrounded by a capsule that protects and supports it. The joint capsule is lined with a type of tissue called synovium, which produces synovial fluid, a clear substance that lubricates and nourishes the cartilage and bones inside the joint capsule. Like many other rheumatic diseases, rheuma-toid arthritis is an autoimmune disease (  auto  means self), so-called because a person’s immune system, which normally helps protect the body from infec-tion and disease, attacks joint tissues for unknown reasons. White blood cells, the agents of the immune system, travel to the synovium and cause inflammation (synovitis), characterized by warmth, redness, swelling, and pain — typical symptoms of arthritis q & a  February 2014 — Peoria — Healthy Cells Magazine — Page 19 rheumatoid arthritis. During the inflammation process, the normally thin synovium becomes thick and makes the joint swollen, puffy, and sometimes warm to the touch. As rheumatoid arthritis progresses, the inflamed synovium invades and destroys the cartilage and bone within the joint. The surrounding muscles, ligaments, and tendons that support and stabilize the joint become weak and unable to work normally. These effects lead to the pain and joint damage often seen in rheumatoid arthritis. Research-ers studying rheumatoid arthritis now believe that it begins to damage bones during the first year or two that a person has the disease, one reason why early diagnosis and treatment are so important. Rheuma-toid arthritis also can cause more generalized bone loss that may lead to osteoporosis (fragile bones that are prone to fracture). Some people with rheumatoid arthritis also have symptoms in places other than their joints. Many people with rheumatoid arthritis develop anemia, or a decrease in the production of red blood cells. Other effects that occur less often include neck pain and dry eyes and mouth. Very rarely, people may have inflammation of the blood vessels (vasculitis), the lining of the lungs (pleurisy), or the sac enclosing the heart (pericarditis). How Does Rheumatoid Arthritis Affect People’s Lives?  Rheumatoid arthritis affects people differently. Some people have mild or moderate forms of the disease, with periods of worsening symptoms, called flares, and periods in which they feel better, called remissions. Others have a severe form of the disease that is active most of the time, lasts for many years or a lifetime, and leads to serious joint damage and disability. Although rheumatoid arthritis is primarily a disease of the joints, its effects are not just physical. Many people with rheumatoid arthritis also experience issues related to: ã Depression, anxiety ã Feelings of helplessness ã Low self-esteem Rheumatoid arthritis can affect virtually every area of a person’s life from work life to family life. It can also interfere with the joys and respon-sibilities of family life and may affect the decision to have children. Fortunately, current treatment strategies allow most people with the disease to lead active and productive lives. These strategies include pain-relieving drugs and medications that slow joint damage, a bal-ance between rest and exercise, and patient education and support programs. In recent years, research has led to a new understanding of rheumatoid arthritis and has increased the likelihood that, in time, researchers will find even better ways to treat the disease.  This is Part 1 of a series focusing on rheumatoid arthritis. For more  information about rheumatoid arthritis and other musculoskeletal health  issues, visit www.niams.nih.gov. Join us next month for part 2 of the  series on RA.   1  According to the National Arthritis Data Workgroup, the actual number of new cases of rheumatoid arthritis is lower than previous estimates because of changes in the classifica-tion for the condition, as cited in Helmick CG, Felson DT, Lawrence RC, Gabriel S, Hirsch R, Kwoh CK, Liang MH, Kremers HM, Mayes MD, Merkel PA, Pillemer SR, Reveille JD, Stone JH, for the National Arthritis Data Workgroup. Estimates of the Prevalence of Arthritis and Other Rheumatic Conditions in the United States. Part I. Arthritis Rheum 2008;58(1):15-25. 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