Saturday, December 29, 2007

Understanding Rheumatoid Arthritis







What is it?



Rheumatoid Arthritis affects one to two percent of the population. It appears to hit women the hardest, with an estimated 2.1 million female sufferers in the United States alone. Although it normally shows up between ages 20 and 40, rheumatoid arthritis can strike anytime.



This type of arthritis is a systemic autoimmune disease potentially affecting the entire body and involving many different joints. When the body's immune system is not functioning correctly, healthy joint tissue comes under attack. Joint damage and inflammation of the joint linings cause pain, stiffness and swelling.





Symptoms


Early in the disease, people suffer from inflammation, pain, and stiffness. Symptoms often begin in the hands or feet, but can also impact elbows, shoulders, neck, knees and hips. Accompanying this can also be fever, poor appetite, fatigue and anemia and rheumatoid lumps, which form under the skin.





Causes


A specific cause has yet to be pinpointed, although researchers have identified a genetic marker that is probably influential in the start of the disease. The earlier a diagnosis is made the better, because arthritis can often be controlled with swift drug intervention.



In 1999, a study published in the Journal of Rheumatology found that smoking cigarettes or cigars raises the risk for rheumatoid arthritis by about 50 percent.





Treatment


Medications are usually aimed at alleviating the symptoms. Aspirin is usually the first drug to try, since it is inexpensive and effective.



A class of drugs called NSAIDs, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are the next course of action. However, response to NSAIDs can vary, so experimentation is usually called for. In the long term they are known to cause side effects, particularly stomach upset and gastrointestinal bleeding. Fortunately, a new class of drug is now on the market, COX-2 inhibitors, which help pain reduction without the side effects of NSAIDS. The newer drugs are more expensive, but their dosage is lower than other medications.



More powerful anti-rheumatic drugs are used when the anti-inflammatory drugs fail to provide adequate help. Antimalarial compounds containing hydroxychloroquine sulfate have produced a good response in. Others, such as the corticosteroid prednisone can result in rapid symptomatic improvement until treatment is discontinued. Finding the right balance between dosage and relief is important when using steriods, as long term use carries many side effects.





Other treatment options


Exercise, periods of rest and physical therapy all contribute to coping with rheumatoid arthritis. Exercise is beneficial for keeping joints mobile, strengthening muscles around joints, and maintaining overall health and wellbeing. Although sufferers may not feel like exercising, just a few simple movements a day can make a difference in the severity of symptoms as well as improve mood and self-esteem.



Rest is vital to the recovery of inflammed joints to prevent further damage.





Devices


Splints are easily available in the local pharmacy and provide joint support and protection during flare-ups. They are most effective for hands and wrists and can be tailored to the individual. Other readily available devices help sufferers perform everyday chores, such as can openers, jar openers, door handles, and faucet turners.


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