Disease: Arthritis, rheumatoid

Appointments & care

At Mayo Clinic, we take the time to listen, to find answers and to provide you the best care.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that typically affects the small joints in your hands and feet. 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.

An autoimmune disorder, rheumatoid arthritis occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks your own body's tissues. In addition to causing joint problems, rheumatoid arthritis sometimes can affect other organs of the body — such as the skin, eyes, lungs and blood vessels.

Although rheumatoid arthritis can occur at any age, it usually begins after age 40. The disorder is much more common in women.

Treatment focuses on controlling symptoms and preventing joint damage.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

Signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis may include:

  • Tender, warm, swollen joints
  • Morning stiffness that may last for hours
  • Firm bumps of tissue under the skin on your arms (rheumatoid nodules)
  • Fatigue, fever and weight loss

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.

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.

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have persistent discomfort and swelling in your joints.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when your immune system attacks the synovium — the lining of the membranes that surround your joints.

The resulting inflammation thickens the synovium, which can eventually destroy the cartilage and bone within the joint.

The tendons and ligaments that hold the joint together weaken and stretch. Gradually, the joint loses its shape and alignment.

Doctors don't know what starts this process, although a genetic component appears likely. While your genes don't actually cause rheumatoid arthritis, they can make you more susceptible to environmental factors — such as infection with certain viruses and bacteria — that may trigger the disease.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

Appointments & care

At Mayo Clinic, we take the time to listen, to find answers and to provide you the best care.

Rheumatoid arthritis can be difficult to diagnose in its early stages because the early signs and symptoms mimic those of many other diseases. There is no one blood test or physical finding to confirm the diagnosis.

During the physical exam, your doctor will check your joints for swelling, redness and warmth. He or she will also check your reflexes and muscle strength.

Blood tests

People with rheumatoid arthritis tend to have an elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR, or sed rate), which indicates the presence of an inflammatory process in the body. Other common blood tests look for rheumatoid factor and anti-cyclic citrullinate d peptide (anti-CCP) antibodies.

X-rays

Your doctor may recommend X-rays to help track the progression of rheumatoid arthritis in your joints over time.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

Rheumatoid arthritis increases your risk of developing:

  • Osteoporosis. Rheumatoid arthritis itself, along with some medications used for treating rheumatoid arthritis, can increase your risk of osteoporosis — a condition that weakens your bones and makes them more prone to fracture.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome. If rheumatoid arthritis affects your wrists, the inflammation can compress the nerve that serves most of your hand and fingers.
  • Heart problems. Rheumatoid arthritis can increase your risk of hardened and blocked arteries, as well as inflammation of the sac that encloses your heart.
  • Lung disease. People with rheumatoid arthritis have an increased risk of inflammation and scarring of the lung tissues, which can lead to progressive shortness of breath.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

Some common complementary and alternative treatments that have shown promise for rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Plant oils. The seeds of evening primrose, borage and black currant contain a type of fatty acid that may help with rheumatoid arthritis pain and morning stiffness. Side effects may include nausea, diarrhea and gas. Some plant oils can cause liver damage or interfere with medications, so check with your doctor first.
  • Fish oil. Some preliminary studies have found that fish oil supplements may reduce rheumatoid arthritis pain and stiffness. Side effects can include nausea, belching and a fishy taste in the mouth. Fish oil can interfere with medications, so check with your doctor first.
  • Tai chi. This movement therapy involves gentle exercises and stretches combined with deep breathing. Many people use tai chi to relieve stress in their lives. Small studies have found that tai chi may reduce rheumatoid arthritis pain. When led by a knowledgeable instructor, tai chi is safe. But don't do any moves that cause pain.

Research on other supplements, such as ginger, green tea and turmeric, are still in the early stages, but preliminary studies show they may be beneficial in treating rheumatoid arthritis.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

You can take steps to care for your body if you have rheumatoid arthritis. These self-care measures, when used along with your rheumatoid arthritis medications, can help you manage your signs and symptoms:

  • Exercise regularly. Gentle exercise can help strengthen the muscles around your joints, and it can help fight fatigue you might feel. Check with your doctor before you start exercising. If you're just getting started, begin by taking a walk. Try swimming or gentle water aerobics. Avoid exercising tender, injured or severely inflamed joints.
  • Apply heat or cold. Heat can help ease your pain and relax tense, painful muscles. Cold may dull the sensation of pain. Cold also has a numbing effect and decreases muscle spasms.
  • Relax. Find ways to cope with pain by reducing stress in your life. Techniques such as guided imagery, distraction and muscle relaxation can all be used to control pain.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

The degree to which rheumatoid arthritis affects your daily activities depends in part on how well you cope with the disease. Talk to your doctor or nurse about strategies for coping. With time you'll find what strategies work best for you. In the meantime, try to:

  • Take control. With your doctor, make a plan for managing your arthritis. This will help you feel in charge of your disease.
  • Know your limits. Rest when you're tired. Rheumatoid arthritis can make you prone to fatigue and muscle weakness. A rest or short nap that doesn't interfere with nighttime sleep may help.
  • Connect with others. Keep your family aware of how you're feeling. They may be worried about you but might not feel comfortable asking about your pain. Find a family member or friend you can talk to when you're feeling especially overwhelmed. Also connect with other people who have rheumatoid arthritis — whether through a support group in your community or online.
  • Take time for yourself. It's easy to get busy and not take time for yourself. Find time for what you like, whether it's time to write in a journal, go for a walk or listen to music. Use this time to relieve stress and reflect on your feelings.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

Factors that may increase your risk of rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Sex. Women are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Age. Rheumatoid arthritis can occur at any age, but it most commonly begins between the ages of 40 and 60.
  • Family history. If a member of your family has rheumatoid arthritis, you may have an increased risk of the disease.

Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

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