Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body. Inflammation and swelling will occur in the joints, including cartilage, bone and ligaments as well as soft tissue in some organ systems. The symptoms of her mature arthritis have her relationship to the basis of the disease.
Because the immune system will attack more than the joints in the body is sometimes called rheumatoid disease as a more global name. But, no matter what it’s called, it is a chronic illness that usually lasts for years. Individuals can experience times without the symptoms which is called remission, and these times of remission are very individualized. In other words, not everyone experiences a remission at the same point in their disease. During times of remission the inflammation is not present in the patients often feel generally healthy.
But, more often than not, the disease progresses and causes joint destruction and disability. The progression or destruction of the joints doesn’t necessarily correlate with the pain, swelling and disability felt by the individual. Much like individuals who have osteoarthritis on x-ray but experienced no symptoms some individuals with rheumatoid arthritis can have excruciating pain, swelling and redness but no arthritic changes on imaging. When the patient does go from remission to a flareup physicians refer to this as a relapse in the disease.
The cause of her mature arthritis is not known, even though some viral and bacterial infections have been suspected to “jumpstart” the immune system causing it to begin attacking the body. Researchers are continuing to study the disease, looking for possible triggers and causes, both of which will assist in the diagnosis and treatment. Regardless of the exact cause, the immune system is geared up and inflamed joints, soft tissue and sometimes other body organs.
Symptoms of the condition can include a low grade fever, fatigue, lack of appetite, muscle and joint aches and stiffness in the affected joints. Although the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis mimic the flu they are longer-lasting and not alleviated when the infection is cured. Symptoms are most notice after periods of inactivity or early in the morning.
Individuals who experience a flareup find their joints become red, tender and hot as the lining of the joints, the synovium, becomes inflamed. The synovium produces more than enough synovial fluid during a flareup that is thicker than normal. This irritates the joints and causes more destruction as it becomes a vicious cycle that is only broken with treatment.
Multiple joints are usually inflamed in a symmetrical pattern. This means that if the right thumb is affected so will the left. Small joints and the hands and feet are the most commonly involved and chronic inflammation can lead to deformity and disability as the tissue, cartilage and bone are progressively destroyed.
Because rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disease the symptoms also affect other tissues of the body. Glands in the eyes and mouth can affect those organs and make them dry. Treatment for the eyes must be started immediately because the potential for permanent damage to the eyesight exists when the eyeball becomes dried out.
Individuals who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis can also experience lung tissue damage which become inflamed causing pleuritis and chest pain with deep breathing or coughing. The tissue around the heart can also become inflamed causing pericarditis, which causes chest pain and changes with leaning forward or lying down.
Individuals may also experience rheumatoid nodules which are from lumps under the skin at areas of pressure around the fingers and elbows. These are important in the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. Other symptoms can also include decreased red or white blood cell counts, anemia and chronic fatigue as the blood has difficulty carrying oxygen to the body. Decreased white blood cell counts will also increase the risk of infection.
Some individuals will experience a vasculitis, which is inflammation of the blood vessels, that can lead to decrease blood supply to the tissues and tissue death. This happens most frequently in the extremities, feet or hands.
Although it appears that the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are straightforward when written down on paper, seen in every day life they can mimic the symptoms of other diseases, illnesses and chronic problems. Doctors must use several different techniques to determine an accurate identification and diagnosis of the disease which will eventually lead to appropriate treatment protocols to decrease the progression and disability caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
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