What is arthritis?
Much has been written about this disease, so let us explore how arthritis can affect us in our daily lives.
Arthritis is basically an inflammation which affects a joint or many joints, the general symptoms of which are pain in the joint or joints, swelling and stiffness. To date nearly more than 100 strains of this disease have been discovered; all with different origins and different forms of treatment.
It should be noted that arthritis normally builds up over time; however, symptoms may also suddenly appear. This disease is normally associated with senior citizens (people over 60 years of age) but surprisingly there have been cases of arthritis in children and young adults. Another case point to note of is arthritis is more prevalent in women and in overweight individuals.
In today’s article, we will stick to one of two most common forms of arthritis, i.e., rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the other being osteoarthritis (OA).
According to the Arthritis Foundation Malaysia, nearly 1 in 5 people display mild symptoms of RA, which are normally overlooked. Data shows nearly 5 in 1,000 Malaysians are affected by RA.
Inflammation is the body’s immune system’s response to fight off something that is trying to cause damage, usually an external source. The affected area turns red, feels warm, swells up and feels painful. The redness and swelling are due to an increased flow of blood with antibodies to the affected area to fight and repair damage. Pain is felt at the nerve endings which is caused by chemical reactions produced by the immune system to fight off the infection.
Our joints are covered in a tough membrane called the synovium in which the synovial fluid is housed. This synovial fluid allows your joints to move smoothly. RA happens when the synovium becomes inflamed when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues, which is described as an autoimmune disease. This leaves the affected joint or joint endings red, swollen and painful, and over time the bone of the joint and cartilage can wear down completely.
If left unchecked without any form of treatment, RA develops into a critical stage where a person cannot move his or her joints and becomes severely disabled.
How do you diagnose RA?
Scientists have yet to discover how or why our immune system attacks its own tissues. However, advancements have been made in the medical line and there are now tests to diagnose RA conclusively.
Medical practitioners will do a basic examination and make an initial clinical diagnosis, after which you will be recommended to consult a rheumatologist to determine if you are suffering from RA.
The rheumatologist will conduct tests, starting with taking blood and synovial fluid samples to analyse the inflammation levels, and whether you have RA or OA. Blood tests are commonly used to also check for antibodies like anti-CCP and RF (rheumatoid factor).
A rheumatologist will then take x-rays, MRI and CT scans which will show the extent of damage to your joints and cartilage.
How do you treat RA?
As there is no complete recovery from RA, treatment is based on reducing the amount of pain and preventing further joint damage. Your medical practitioner may recommend ice packs or heating pads. Some patients find cold treatment works better than warm treatment on their inflamed joints.
Some form of physiotherapy may be recommended to increase or maintain flexibility in your joints.
RA may be treated with corticosteroids or medication that suppress your immune system called DMARDs (disease modifying antirheumatic drugs). Always check with your medical practitioner on the compatibility of these medications with any other medication you are currently on.
A common form of surgery for RA is artificial joint replacement. However, do consider the other options mentioned above first, since this is major surgery and there is a possibility of the body rejecting the artificial joint, or the need to repeat the surgery if the artificial joint breaks or wears down.
Joint fusion surgery is recommended if very severe RA is found in finger joints, where a surgeon will fuse the joints together. The drawback here is your fingers will be in permanent fixture.
Weight control is another way of coping with RA, as a heavy or overweight person will put more pressure on his or her knee joints, making walking a sore and painful process. If the knees or feet are severely affected, walking sticks or walkers can help to relieve mobility by taking some pressure off the joints. In the worst-case scenario, RA sufferers will be wheel chair bound.
Light exercise to increase flexibility in the joints have also proven to lessen the pain of RA. Your medical practitioner will be able to recommend exercises suitable for your stage of RA, from swimming, walking, stretching, etc, but be sure not to exert yourself.
In conclusion, it is important to seek medical attention if you have symptoms of pain and swelling in your joints, as early intervention coupled with the correct medication and lifestyle changes have proven successful in allowing an RA sufferer to continue to function and lead a fairly normal life.
24th April 2020 23:54
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