Rheumatoid arthritis is the second most common type of arthritis and affects over two million Americans. This chronic inflammatory disease injures the lining of the joints, deforming them in many cases and eventually leading to bone erosion. The disorder generally affects the joints in the hands and feet most severely.
The most common symptoms associated with the condition include stiffness, swelling and pain. In addition, joints affected by RA may look red and be warmer to the touch than unaffected joints. Below are 20 things you should know about this disease:
1. Rheumatoid Arthritis Isn’t Osteoarthritis
However, they are quite different, as RA is the result of an abnormal immune reaction, while osteoarthritis stems from erosion of the cartilage and bone and is primarily the result of aging, obesity, or overuse of various joints. For this reason, it is important to ask specific questions if you have been diagnosed with arthritis, as treatments for each type can be vastly different.
2. Muscle Atrophy and Loss of Appetite Are Common Symptoms
You may have known people in the past with rheumatoid arthritis who were extremely thin. This is because for multiple decades, those in the medical community were of the opinion that exercise would further damage the joints in RA patients and for this reason recommended a sedentary lifestyle. This caused individuals to suffer from muscle atrophy. In addition, a study completed by David Pisetsky, MD, a professor at Durham, North Carolina’s Duke University Medical Center, found that the chronic inflammation RA patients experience can cause extreme loss of appetite.
These two factors combined gave the disorder the nickname “wasting disease” in the 1960s. As you may have suspected, current opinions among immunologists and orthopedic specialists have changed over the years, and exercise is actually now part of the common treatment protocol for RA patients. Although during an extreme flareup exercise is not recommended, when a patient is enjoying a period of remission, doctors now state there is no evidence to suggest exercise would cause a flareup.
3. Shared Epitope May Be the Cause
A genetic variant known as shared epitope is believed to be the cause of the disorder in certain individuals. There is also longstanding evidence that certain genotypes in the HLA class are linked to a higher risk of developing RA.
Researchers are working to determine if there is a way to isolate and alter such genes in predisposed patients before the disease manifests. If you or anyone you know suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, this research may eventually lead to some light at the end of the tunnel.