Did you know Rheumatoid arthritis strikes three times as many women as men, but its cause remains unknown?
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease of the joints.
It’s an autoimmune condition, in which your immune system mistakes the linings of your joints as “foreign,” attacking and damaging them, resulting in pain and inflammation.
The small joints of the hands and feet are usually the first affected by this disease.
About 1.5 million Americans have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), according to the Arthritis Foundation.
The condition usually strikes after the age of 40. About three times as many women as men develop RA.
Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Like many other autoimmune diseases, researchers do not know exactly what causes RA.
Something — perhaps a virus or bacteria — triggers the immune system to attack the body’s own tissue.
Smokers and those with a family history of RA are at an increased risk of developing the condition, compared with non-smokers and those without a family history of RA.
Rheumatoid Arthritis vs. Osteoarthritis
There are several different types of arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are two of the most common types.
In RA, the joint lining becomes inflamed and eventually erodes the joint.
But in osteoarthritis, the cartilage that covers the ends of the bones in a joint is damaged by wear and tear.
The risk of complications of RA increases over time or when treatment is inadequate.
These complications include:
- Deformed joints and loss of function
- Nerve pain, causing numbness and tingling in hands and feet
- Low red blood cell count, or anemia, which increases fatigue and weakness
- High risk for infection
- Skin conditions, such as blisters; rashes; bumps under the skin, especially around joints; and ulcers
- Sjögren’s syndrome, which interferes with tears and saliva production and causes severely dry eyes, eye irritation and burning and increased risk of infection
- Weak bones, or osteoporosis, which some of the medications used to treat RA may worsen
- Shortness of breath and pain with breathing, indicating inflammation of the lining of the lungs, or pleurisy, or swelling and scarring of lung tissue
- Heart problems if RA affects either the sac that holds the heart or the arteries that carry blood to the heart. People with RA have a higher risk of blockage in their heart arteries.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome, or swelling in the wrists that puts pressure on nerves of the hands, causing numbness, tingling, and difficulty using the hands and fingers.
- Gum swelling and gum disease, or periodontal disease
- Kidney or liver impairment caused by medications used to treat RA
- Decrease in function of organs or tissues supplied by inflamed blood vessels
- Mood and anxiety problems, related to the stress of having a chronic illness and loss of a body function
- Increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Pregnancy complications, such as high blood pressure in the mother late in pregnancy or a symptom flare after deliver
Original article: Everyday Health