What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis, or chronic polyarthritis, is not just a joint disorder, it is a systemic disease.
Its basis is a disorder of the immune system - this leads to inflammation that can eventually result in joint damage and deformity. In the early stages, you can prevent the joints from being destroyed completely.
Our everyday movements are a marvel of nature. Thanks to the complex interaction of joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles, we are able to walk, run, dance, jump, and more. If one of the 140+ joints in your body is inflamed or irritated, the ingenious locomotor system becomes unbalanced. Such irritative conditions and inflammatory states of one or more joints are grouped together under the collective term "arthritis". Joint inflammation can start suddenly or take a chronic course. The most common chronic form of joint inflammation is rheumatoid arthritis.
Signs & Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
A classic feature of rheumatoid arthritis is the symmetrical onset of joint inflammation. Symmetrical means that the joints of the fingers or toes on both sides of the body are affected at the same time. Inflammation of the joints becomes apparent through pain, swelling or warmth. Joint mobility is also restricted. Inflammation usually begins in the joints of the fingers or in the joints of the hands and feet and spreads to other joints such as the knee and shoulder.
In many cases, fluid collects in the joint and causes articular effusion. Pain typically develops when resting and will ease up as you move the joint.
In the early stages of the disease, this may be accompanied by secondary symptoms such as:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Raised temperature
Causes & Risk Factors of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. This means that the body considers its own tissues to be foreign and fights them. The immune system reacts with an inflammation.
There are a number of possible precipitating factors for this "malfunction":
- Smoking: smoking seems to play an important role.
- Viruses & bacteria: pathogens (viruses and bacteria) may also be important.
- Congenital: genetic influences can also be the cause.
It is likely that a number of factors have to come together before rheumatoid arthritis is triggered.
Prevention of Rheumatoid Arthritis
There is no guaranteed method of prevention, a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise is a good prophylaxis against rheumatoid arthritis. Make sure you also eat plenty of fruit, vegetables, vitamin C, and don't smoke!
How can joint inflammation be treated?
Medical supports are one of the most valuable treatments for rheumatoid arthritis. They stabilize the joint, reduce swelling and gently relieve pain.
Other forms of treatment used in combination with supports are physiotherapy and exercises (ergotherapy). Cold packs or special cold therapy and medications can help relieve pain. In some cases, an operation can also help, e.g. the removal of the inner lining of the joint or replacement of the affected joint by an artificial one.
Talk to your doctor about which treatment is right for you.
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