Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that can cause joint pain and damage throughout your body. The joint damage that RA causes usually happens on both sides of the body. So, if a joint is affected in one of your arms or legs, the same joint in the other arm or leg will probably be affected, too. This is one way that doctors distinguish RA from other forms of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis (OA).
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that can affect more than just your joints. In some people, the condition can damage a wide variety of body systems, including the skin, eyes, lungs, heart and blood vessels.
An autoimmune disorder, rheumatoid arthritis occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks your own body’s tissues.
Unlike the wear-and-tear damage of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of your joints, causing a painful swelling that can eventually result in bone erosion and joint deformity.
The inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis is what can damage other parts of the body as well. While new types of medications have improved treatment options dramatically, severe rheumatoid arthritis can still cause physical disabilities.
RA is a chronic disease marked by symptoms of inflammation and pain in the joints. These symptoms and signs occur during periods known as flares or exacerbations. Other times are known as periods of remission — this is when symptoms disappear completely.
While RA symptoms can affect several organs in the body, the joint symptoms of RA include:
Early rheumatoid arthritis tends to affect your smaller joints first — particularly the joints that attach your fingers to your hands and your toes to your feet.
As the disease progresses, symptoms often spread to the wrists, knees, ankles, elbows, hips and shoulders. In most cases, symptoms occur in the same joints on both sides of your body.
About 40 percent of the people who have rheumatoid arthritis also experience signs and symptoms that don’t involve the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect many nonjoint structures, including:
Rheumatoid arthritis signs and symptoms may vary in severity and may even come and go. Periods of increased disease activity, called flares, alternate with periods of relative remission — when the swelling and pain fade or disappear. Over time, rheumatoid arthritis can cause joints to deform and shift out of place.
Factors that may increase your risk of rheumatoid arthritis include:
There are several different types of RA. Knowing which type you have may help your doctor provide the best type of treatment for you.
Types of RA include:
There’s no cure for RA, but there are treatments that can help you manage it.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can keep both patients and physicians on their toes as they figure out the best ways to treat the symptoms and slow the progression of the condition.
Recently, advances in treatment strategies have resulted in ever-improving outcomes and quality of life for those with rheumatoid arthritis. Treat to Target Rheumatoid Arthritis is a treatment philosophy that rheumatologists use to effectively manage this disease.
The treat-to-target approach has resulted in fewer symptoms and higher remission rates for those with RA. The treatment strategy involves:
Treatments for RA help to manage the pain and control the inflammatory response which can in many cases result in remission. Decreasing the inflammation can also help to prevent further joint and organ damage.
Your doctor or dietitian may recommend an anti-inflammatory diet to help with your symptoms. This type of diet includes foods that have lots of omega-3 fatty acids.
Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include:
Eating lots of fiber is also important. According to some researchers, fiber may help reduce inflammatory responses which may decrease C-reactive protein levels. Choose whole grain foods, fresh vegetables, and fresh fruit. Strawberries may be particularly beneficial.
Foods containing flavonoids can also help to counter inflammation in the body. They include:
What you don’t eat is just as important as what you do eat. Make sure to avoid trigger foods. These include processed carbohydrates and saturated or trans fats.
Avoiding trigger foods and choosing the right foods in trying to follow an anti-inflammatory diet may help you manage your RA.