Rheumatoid Arthritis – It Affects More Than Just Joints
By Causenta Wellness
Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common form of autoimmune disease, with nearly 200,000 cases reported last year in the United States.
As an autoimmune condition, rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body’s immune cells mistakenly attack healthy cells, creating chronic inflammation.
Osteoarthritis, which is caused by wear and tear of the joints, can be painful but is not as serious as autoimmune arthritis that damages the actual lining of the joints and can cause bone erosion and deformity.
Additionally, because of its chronic nature and relationship to the immune system, which travels throughout the body, rheumatoid arthritis can affect other parts of the body such as the skin, eyes, kidneys, lungs, nerve tissue, heart, salivary glands, and blood vessels.
Nearly half of patients with rheumatoid arthritis, sometimes called RA, experience these non-joint related symptoms.
Rheumatoid Arthritis – Common Symptoms and Risk Factors
It is common for rheumatoid arthritis patients to experience symptoms in waves; this means people can go several months with no issues and then have severe RA symptoms – these periods are often referred to as flares.
So, what should you look out for if you or a loved one is concerned about rheumatoid arthritis? Common symptoms include:
- Joint stiffness, especially in the morning or after inactivity
- Loss of appetite
- Tenderness or swelling of the joints
In most rheumatoid arthritis cases, smaller joints are affected first, especially the joints that attach your fingers to your hands and your toes to your feet.
As the disease progresses, some patients’ fingers or toes will become deformed and use of the appendage can be limited.
Also, as rheumatoid arthritis gets more severe, symptoms may spread to the wrists, knees, ankles, elbows, hips, and shoulders. For most people, symptoms occur in the same joints on both sides of the body.
While, as with many diseases and autoimmune conditions , doctors and researchers are not aware of the specific cause of rheumatoid arthritis, they do now believe there is a genetic component that makes the body more susceptible to developing this autoimmune arthritis.
It seems that at some point there is a trigger that sets off the beginning of RA, which in turn makes the immune system attack the synovium (the lining of the membranes that surround joints).
The inflammation that occurs after the attack, thickens the synovium and ultimately leads to the destruction of the cartilage and bone within the joint, which will cause it to lose its shape.
Some risk factors to consider as either being the trigger point or increasing your likelihood to develop rheumatoid arthritis are:
- Age. Rheumatoid arthritis can occur at any age, but if you are middle-aged, you are most at risk.
- Environmental exposures. Exposures to certain toxins such as asbestos or silica can increase the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. For example, emergency workers exposed to dust from the collapse of the World Trade Center and those who have worked in the HVAC industry are at higher risk of developing autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. Be aware of your environment and take precautions to limit your exposure to harmful chemicals.
- Family history. If a member of your family has rheumatoid arthritis, you may have an increased risk of the disease.
- Gender. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs more frequently in women than men.
- Obesity. People who are overweight or obese have an increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. This is particularly true for obese women under the age of 55. Being at a healthy weight not only decreases your chances of developing RA, but it also reduces your likelihood of experiencing other health concerns such as heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer. Dr. Tom Incledon, Founder & CEO of Causenta, always recommends that people eat diets rich in colorful fruits and vegetables paired with low-fat proteins and other foods low on the Glycemic Index. For more information on the Rainbow Diet, click here.
- Smoking. Smoking is not only a trigger for developing rheumatoid arthritis, but there is a correlation between smoking and greater severity of the disease. So, if you are at risk for developing RA or have already been diagnosed, this is just one more reason to stop smoking.
Rheumatoid Arthritis – Additional Health Concerns
Again, because rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition, it can wreak systematic havoc on your body, especially if left untreated. Some additional health concerns to be aware of are:
- Abnormal body composition. Even rheumatoid arthritis patients who are not obese and have a normal BMI (body mass index), experience a higher proportion of fat to lean mass. While this may not affect day-to-day life, it is something to be aware of as it can lead to other health issues down the road.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome. If rheumatoid arthritis progressed to the wrists, that inflammation can compress the nerves in your hand and fingers.
- Dry eyes and mouth. People who have rheumatoid arthritis are also more likely to have another autoimmune condition known as Sjogren’s syndrome, which decreases the amount of moisture in your eyes and mouth.
- Heart problems. Hardened and blocked arteries can occur more often in those with rheumatoid arthritis. This autoimmune arthritis may also cause inflammation of the sac that encloses the heart.
- Infections. The disease itself and many of the standard-of-care treatments, which are medications that decrease immune system activity, can lead to increased risk of infections.
- Lung disease. Because rheumatoid arthritis causes chronic inflammation, those with the autoimmune condition have an increased risk of scarring of lung tissues that can lead to progressive shortness of breath.
- Lymphoma. Referring to a group of blood cancers that develop in the lymph system, lymphoma is found to be more common in those with rheumatoid arthritis.
- Osteoporosis. This condition that weakens the bones and makes them prone to fracture is more common in women and in those with RA.
- Rheumatoid nodules. Nodules are firm bumps of tissue that may develop as rheumatoid arthritis progresses. They usually form around pressure points, such as the elbows, but can form anywhere in the body, including the lungs.
Rheumatoid Arthritis – Treatment Options
Currently, there is not cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but there are treatments that can help deal with the symptoms of the disease to help patients feel better and limit or slow disease progression.
The most common treatment for rheumatoid arthritis is medication. There are several key types that are used, including NSAIDs, steroids, and DMARDs. The latter is an acronym for disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs and represents a newer wave of RA drugs, including biologic agents, that are able to target certain parts of the immune system and show evidence of slowing disease progression. Many of these DMARDs are the medications you will see advertised on television.
Other Factors To Keep In Mind
A number of other factors should also be explored to help people with autoimmune arthritis feel better day-to-day.
“When patients come to Causenta for any autoimmune disease treatment – including RA – we always conduct a full work-up, so we really understand everything that is going on with them,” says Dr. Tom Incledon, Founder & CEO of Causenta.
“Also, for rheumatoid arthritis patients, because obesity is a risk factor and we know that autoimmune conditions can be exacerbated by what you eat, eating whole foods that agree with your gut and keep your weight in check, can be key.”
Give Us A Try
If you are battling rheumatoid arthritis and want to explore a customized treatment plan to understand more of what is happening in your body to help you feel better with less medication, contact our team today.
During your 30-minute consultation, we will get to know more about your concerns, any additional health issues, and help get you on the path to living your best life.