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Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis - What it is

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a disorder of the immune system that affects multiple joints in the body, causing pain, stiffness and swelling in the affected joints. Due to yet unknown reasons, the body’s immune system which normally takes care of combating foreign bacteria, viruses and diseased cells in the body begins to engage in “friendly fire”, attacking the joints and their surrounding tissues which become inflamed. 

Lacking an “off switch”, the continual attack by the immune system eventually causes damage to the joints. As the condition progresses, the inflammation, pain and stiffness of the joints tend to increase in severity, ultimately leading to deformity of joints and a loss of overall mobility.

What happens when you have rheumatoid arthritis?

Scientific research shows that either a disorder in the body’s immune system or an overreaction to an unknown trigger like a virus infection can set off the condition. Once mobilised, the immune system targets the body’s own cells – hence the term “autoimmune disease”.

In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, the synovial membrane that covers the joints becomes the target of the immune system’s attack leading eventually to the destruction of the bone and cartilage of the joint. The visible swelling and tenderness of the joints is due to increased fluid in the joint cavity and the thickening of the lining of the joint capsule.

RA is a systemic disorder that can affect other organs in the body like the eye, the skin, the heart and the lungs. The commonly affected joints are the small joints of the hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees, ankles and the toes.

Does rheumatoid arthritis only affect the elderly?

One common misunderstanding associated with rheumatoid arthritis only affects people in their silver years. As rheumatoid arthritis is a disorder of the immune system and not due to “wear and tear”, it is not linked to the age of a person. 

In fact, patients can acquire rheumatoid arthritis at any age, though it occurs most commonly between the age of 25 and 40. It can and does occur in children. It affects both men and women, although women are 3 times more likely than men to develop the condition.

Is there a link between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis?

Both conditions are similar in the sense that they are both arthritis, but the causes are different. RA arises from the body’s immune system attacking its own tissues, while primary osteoarthritis is caused by “wear and tear” of the joints. Their symptoms, long term effects and treatment are also very different.

Rheumatoid Arthritis - Preparing for surgery

Rheumatoid Arthritis - Post-surgery care