Rheumatoid Arthritis: What is it?

Rheumatoid Arthritis: What is it?

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By Irwin Lim, Rheumatologist

One of the major diseases we have expertise in treating in BJC Health is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). I thought it was time to explain to you what RA is.

RA is an autoimmune disease.

Normally, your body’s immune system helps fight off infections, keeping you healthy. With an autoimmune disease, this very complex immune system becomes a little disordered, resulting in some healthy tissues in the body being attacked.

In rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system attacks the lining of the joints, a tissue called synovium. This leads to inflammation and joint damage.

While research into causes of rheumatoid arthritis are advanced, we still do not know the exact reason why the immune system does this.

RA is common.

About 1% of the population is affected with this disease. Rheumatoid arthritis tends to run in families. It is more common in women (see Women’s Insights into Rheumatoid Arthritis), occurring twice as frequently as it does in men. Smoking clearly increases the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, and leads to more severe disease.

RA causes pain, stiffness & swelling of the joints.

Typically, the smaller joints, such as those in the hands and feet are affected earlier. However, larger joints such as the hips and knees are also often involved.

RA causes suffering & loss of function.

In many patients, rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive illness that may cause joint destruction with reduction in a person’s functional ability. This may mean difficulty with simple daily tasks such as gripping or dressing, or it may mean pain with walking. Simple activities we usually take for granted.

RA requires early referral & treatment.

This is a disease that really benefits from early intervention. Early diagnosis followed by early, effective treatment prevents much of the joint destruction and deformity. As a result, early referral to a rheumatologist is crucial to avoid missing this period, known as the window of opportunity.

Rheumatoid Arthritis is a serious disease.

It’s not “just arthritis”. There’s a good chance you’ll know someone with this problem & hopefully, this post will help you understand a little more about what they’re going through.

Dr Irwin Lim is a rheumatologist and a director of BJC Health. You should follow him on twitter here.
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