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Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (rue-ma-TOYD arth-write-tis) involves inflammation in the lining of the joints and/or other internal organs. RA typically affects many different joints and is usually chronic involving multiple flare-ups.

RA is a systemic disease that affects the entire body and is one of the most common forms of arthritis. It is characterized by the inflammation of the membrane lining the joint, which causes pain, stiffness, warmth, redness and swelling. The inflamed joint lining, the synovium, can invade and damage bone and cartilage. Inflammatory cells release enzymes that may digest bone and cartilage. The involved joint can lose its shape and alignment, resulting in pain and loss of movement.

What Are the Symptoms?

Symptoms include inflammation of joints, swelling, difficulty moving and pain. Other symptoms include:
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Loss of energy
  • Anemia
Can affect other parts of the body. Other features include lumps (rheumatoid nodules) under the skin in areas subject to pressure (e.g., back of elbows).

What Causes It?

The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not yet known. However, it is known that RA is an autoimmune disease. The body's natural immune system does not operate as it should, resulting in the immune system attacking healthy joint tissue and causing inflammation and subsequent joint damage.

Researchers suspect that agent-like viruses may trigger RA in some people who have an inherited tendency for the disease. Many people with RA have a certain genetic marker called HLA-DR4. Researchers know that there are other genes that influence the development of RA.

What Are the Effects?

Early in the disease, people may notice general fatigue, soreness, stiffness and aching. Pain and swelling may occur in the same joints on both sides of the body and will usually start in the hands or feet. RA affects the wrist and many of the hand joints, but usually not the joints that are closest to the fingernails (except the thumb). RA also can affect elbows, shoulders, neck, knees, hips and ankles. It tends to persist over prolonged periods of time, and over time, inflamed joints may become damaged. Other features include lumps, called rheumatoid nodules, under the skin in areas that receive pressure, such as the back of the elbows.

How Is It Diagnosed?

It is important to diagnose RA early in the course of the disease, because with the use of disease-modifying drugs, the condition can be controlled in many cases. Physicians diagnose RA based on the overall pattern of symptoms, medical history, physical exam, X-rays and lab tests including a test for rheumatoid factor. Rheumatoid factor is an antibody found in the blood of about 80 percent of adults with RA. However, rheumatoid factor may be seen in other conditions besides RA.

Treatment Options

Highly effective drug treatments exist for rheumatoid arthritis. Early treatment is critical. Current treatment methods focus on relieving pain, reducing inflammation, stopping or slowing joint damage, and improving patient function and well-being. Medications can be divided into two groups

Symptomatic medications, such as NSAIDs and aspirin, analgesics, and corticosteroids, help reduce joint pain, stiffness and swelling. These drugs may be used in combination. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) include low doses of methotrexate, leflunomide, D-Penicillamine, sulfasalazine, gold therapy, minocycline, azathioprine, hydroxychloroquine (and other antimalarials), cyclosporine and biologic agents.

People with moderate to severe RA who have not responded well to disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) may opt to try Prosorba therapy.

In addition, treatment most often involves some combination of exercise, rest, joint protection, and physical and occupational therapy. Surgery is available for joints that are damaged and painful. A balance of rest and exercise can help conserve energy and maintain range of motion and use of the joints.

Natural Alternatives

Evening Primrose Oil: Supplementation with evening primrose oil and other sources of GLA has been shown to lessen the joint pain and swelling of this crippling disease.

Boswellia: Arthritis sufferers taking Boswellia have experienced reduced swelling and inflammation, and eventually increased mobility, in the back, knees, hips, and other joints.

Recommended Herbs:

Evening Primrose Oil


Calcium-Magnesium Formula

Arthritis Foundation-Comprehensive website dedicated to assisting those who suffer from all forms of arthritis
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