Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation in the joints and surrounding tissue. It can affect people of all ages, but is more common in women and typically develops between the ages of 40 and 60. The most common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include joint pain and swelling, stiffness, fatigue, and loss of function in the affected joints. If left untreated, rheumatoid arthritis can lead to serious complications, including joint damage, disability, and an increased risk of heart disease and infections.
The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown, but it is thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The immune system mistakenly attacks the lining of the joints, leading to inflammation and tissue damage. This can cause pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints, as well as fatigue and a loss of function.
There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but there are several treatment options that can help manage the symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. These include medications, lifestyle changes, and physical therapy.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen can help reduce pain and inflammation in the joints. However, they may have side effects, such as an increased risk of stomach ulcers and bleeding.
Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, can also help reduce inflammation and relieve joint pain. They may be taken orally or injected directly into the affected joint. However, long-term use of corticosteroids can cause serious side effects, such as osteoporosis and weight gain.
Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are a type of medication that can slow the progression of rheumatoid arthritis and prevent joint damage. They work by suppressing the immune system and reducing inflammation. Examples of DMARDs include methotrexate, hydroxychloroquine, and leflunomide. DMARDs can take several weeks or months to be effective, and they may have serious side effects, such as liver damage and an increased risk of infections.
Biologic response modifiers are a newer type of medication that can be effective in treating rheumatoid arthritis. They work by targeting specific proteins in the immune system that contribute to inflammation. Examples of biologic response modifiers include tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors, such as adalimumab, etanercept, and infliximab, and interleukin-6 (IL-6) inhibitors, such as tocilizumab. Biologic response modifiers may be used in combination with DMARDs and can be effective in reducing joint pain and swelling and improving function. However, they may have serious side effects, such as an increased risk of infections and an increased risk of certain types of cancer.
In addition to medications, there are several lifestyle changes that can help manage the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. These include:
- Exercising regularly: Low-impact exercises, such as walking, swimming, and biking, can help improve flexibility and strength in the joints, reduce fatigue, and increase mobility.
- Maintaining a healthy weight: Being overweight can put additional strain on the joints, particularly the knees, hips, and feet. Losing weight can help reduce joint pain and improve mobility.
- Eating a healthy diet: A diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein can help reduce inflammation and promote overall health.
- Getting enough sleep: Adequate sleep is important for overall health and can help reduce fatigue and improve mood.