To know how to treat pain, you need to know what causes it. Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is the most common type of autoimmune arthritis. What does that mean? It means that the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the body that it is trying to protect. To put it very simply, RA is caused when the immune system (the body’s defense system) is not working properly. This then causes pain and swelling in the wrist and small joints of the hand and feet. Because of this, it makes this one of the most disabling types of arthritis. The inflammation associated with RA is what can eventually damage other parts of the body as observed in some extreme cases. There are a lot of new types of medications that have helped and improved the treatment options dramatically, yet severe RA can still cause physical disabilities.
To get a little bit more specific, those with RA affects the lining of the joints. This then causes painful swelling, which can range from it being uncomfortable to debilitating. Without treatment, this condition can lead to the wearing down of the joint, and eventually, the bone. This then can cause joint deformity in hands, feet, legs, and arms. Detection of early signs of RA usually involves the smaller joints first, toes, feet, and fingers for example. This can be uncomfortable at most in the beginning, but when it progresses and goes unchecked, it goes to your wrists, knees, ankles, hips, and sadly sometimes will occur on both sides of the body.
We mentioned earlier that RA can affect not only your joints, but in more severe cases can also affect other parts of the body. These ‘non joint’ areas are the lungs, kidneys, bone marrow, skin, eyes, heart, salivary glands, and nerve tissue etc. These signs and symptoms, from the minimal to the extreme, come and go. When the disease is ‘active’ these are called flares or flare ups. In time, these disappear and are in remission. RA can cause joints and bones to shift out of place and look ‘broken’ in the most severe cases.
What is the cause or causes?
What exactly causes this affliction is still a little hazy even after decades of extensive research. There are several things that may increase risk of developing RA, including:
Genes: There’s some evidence that rheumatoid arthritis can run in families, although the risk of inheriting it is thought to be low as genes are only thought to play a small role in the condition.
Hormones: RA is more common in women than men, which may be because of the effects of the hormone estrogen, although this link has not been proven yet.
Smoking: Some evidence suggests that people who smoke have an increased risk of developing RA.
But again, nothing is conclusive on this score. There may be other factors that we do not know about yet.
Diagnosing and What can be done
Most doctors can see how severe the situation of the RA is in a patient that they see. Usually, patients suffering from RA come to doctors in the middle of a flare up. Doctors then usually try to find out the severity of the flare up by taking blood to test his or her level of C-Reactive Protein (CRP.) CRP is a protein in your blood, which rises in response to inflammation and infection, making it a solid indicator of how much inflammation is currently present in the body. From there options for treatment can be suggested.
The usual treatments for these attacks or flare ups are medicines to reduce the pain and the swelling of wherever the flare up happens. The medication given also helps reduce possible damage to the joints and cartilage. As with everything, early treatment will give long-term results.
If you are a sufferer of this disease, it would be good to help mitigate the circumstances by doing low impact exercises like walking and yoga and even some pilates, to increase muscle strength and lessen the pressure on your joints. Just make sure to do exercises slowly first, and low impact ones so your joints do not go into shock or cause any sort of further injury to yourself.
It is always best to see a specialist and in this case, the doctors that specialize in these are called Rheumatologists. They treat arthritis and autoimmune diseases. It is important to get the correct diagnosis without unnecessary testing, and they are the ones best equipped to do this, as there are many diseases that can be mistaken for RA.
- “Rheumatoid arthritis,” Mayo Clinic,
- “Rheumatoid arthritis,” NHS,
- “Everything you need to know about Rheumatoid arthritis,” Healthline, 1 November, 2019,
- “Rheumatoid arthritis,” American College of Rheumatology,
- “Rheumatoid arthritis,” NHS,