BENGALURU: Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease, where the patient develops autoantibodies against one’s own tissues, especially in the joints. It is a chronic disease which usually lasts lifelong. It is essential to identify the symptoms and initiate early treatment to prevent joint damage in early stages. Once deformities occur, they are irreversible.
One of the most common symptoms of RA is early morning stiffness that can last for more than one hour. One may also witness stiffness of the joints after prolonged rest. This may be associated with swelling and limitation of the range of joint movement. It classically involves small joints of hands and feet and is usually polyarticular, i.e. more than five joints involved (in 80 per cent of cases). RA may involve only one or two joints, usually larger joints like knee (in 10-15 per cent cases). It is mostly symmetrical i.e. involving both left and right sided joints, but in early stages, it may involve one side only. Involvement of joints of the spine is rare in RA. Apart from joints,the involvement of the eyes, nerves, lungs, heart, kidney, and skin (in the form of nodules and ulcers) may occur.
Environmental factors such as smoking, poor oral hygiene, certain viral infections, and obesity are modifiable factors which contribute to RA susceptibility. Non-modifiable risk factors include those who are subject to age, gender and genetics which are not controllable or cannot be modified in any course.
Early symptoms usually begin at the age between 40 and 60. Development of RA is directly proportional to the age, the more you get older the riskier it becomes.
It commonly affects women (in the reproductive age i.e. 20-40 years) more than men. The incidence increases after pregnancy and three times more common than men.
A person with a history of RA in his/her family is more likely to develop this autoimmune disease. The incidence of RA in first-degree relatives is just 0.8% as compared to 0.5% in the general population.
Smoking can accelerate the progression of symptoms if you are having Rheumatoid Arthritis from your genes. Regular smokers have a higher risk of developing RA than non-smokers.
Obese people are more likely to develop Rheumatoid Arthritis. It is more common in women when they were 55 or younger. Rheumatoid Arthritis is characterised by chronic inflammation that gradually degrades and destroys bone and joint tissue. The accumulation of fat cells in the body causes inflammation and can trigger the development of the disease. Moreover, increased body weight adds stress to the affected joints, particularly of the knees, hips, and feet, resulting in greater loss of mobility and pain.
What can be done to prevent RA?
Early diagnosis is the key to control Rheumatoid Arthritis. Currently, treatment strategies are very effective and the patient can lead a good quality of life. It is important to lead a more active lifestyle, engage yourself in a physically active workout such as walking, swimming, or biking for at least 30 minutes a day for five days a week, maintain healthy weight and quit smoking.
(The author is a Senior Consultant, Department of Rheumatology, Sakra World Hospital)