What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is a form of inflammatory arthritis and an autoimmune disease. For reasons no one fully understands, in rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system - which is designed to protect our health by attacking foreign cells such as viruses and bacteria - instead attacks the body's own tissues, specifically the synovium, a thin membrane that lines the joints. As a result of the attack, fluid builds up in the joints, causing pain in the joints and inflammation that's systemic - meaning it can occur throughout the body.
The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown. It's possible that a virus or bacteria may trigger the disease in people with a genetic predisposition to rheumatoid arthritis. Many doctors think rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the tissue of the joint's lining is attacked by the body's immune system. It's also possible that rheumatoid arthritis is caused by severe stress. The onset of rheumatoid arthritis occurs most frequently in middle age and is more common among women.
The primary symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are similar to osteoarthritis and include pain, swelling and the loss of motion. In addition, other symptoms may include loss of appetite, fever, energy loss, anemia, and rheumatoid nodules (lumps of tissue under the skin). People suffering with rheumatoid arthritis commonly have periods of exacerbation or "flare ups" where multiple joints may be painful and stiff.
Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis may involve medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), aspirin and analgesics. Corticosteroids may be prescribed and are effective in decreasing the inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Side effects can occur with the use of corticosteroids, and close monitoring by a physician is essential. Researchers have made progress in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and newer prescription drugs are now available. If non-surgical measures fail, you and your surgeon may decide that total knee replacement is the best treatment option to relieve your pain and help you return to an improved functional level.
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