Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory illness that mostly affects the joints. What are the symptoms and how is it treated?
Definition: what is rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory illness (arthritis) that most affects the joints. It’s an auto-immune illness, meaning it’s the immune defenses (antibodies) which attack the body instead of defending it. The inflammation occurs around the synovial, which is the membrane which surrounds the joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects about 0.25% of the population, with two thirds more women than men and the frequency peak occurs around the age of forty. It is the most common form of chronic inflammatory rheumatism.
Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
Joint pains are the first signs of rheumatoid arthritis. They are particularly painful late in the night and can cause the sufferer to wake up in the middle of the night, hence, also causing fatigue. They are accompanied by a stiffness in the morning as well, which can last at least 30 minutes.
The illness develops in relapses of variable intensity, during which fluid accumulates around the synovial membrane, which leads to the joints therefore becoming swollen and painful. The pains are generally symmetric (on both sides of the body) and affect at least two thirds of these areas around the hands, fingers or feet.
When arthritis develops, new joints are susceptible to being affected: knees, hips, shoulders, elbows etc.
Causes of rheumatoid arthritis
The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is still unknown. However, many risk factors are known to be able to encourage this illness:
- a genetic predisposition
- tobacco use
- psychological shock (divorce, mourning…)
- hormone changes (menopause for example)
- immune system disorders
Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis
Significant progress has been made in treating rheumatoid arthritis. If it starts earlier, it is from then on possible to stop it developing further. Treating arthritis medicinally involves taking analgesics to ease the pains, anti-inflammatories to treat the stiffness in the morning or corticosteroids. Different basic treatments can be adapted to suit each individual.
Following the development of arthritis, surgical operations are sometimes necessary. They can be used to replace the damaged joints or a synovectomy, which is an operation that removes, partially or completely, the affected synovial membrane.
In addition, it is recommended to do rehabilitation sessions with specialists (physiotherapist, occupational therapist) and if needed, psychological aid.