Rheumatoid arthritis is surrounded by interesting facts: The disease affects women three times more often than men. Children often outgrow juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, yet the disease is chronic and progressive in adults. And most people don’t know that cigarette smoking is the strongest environmental risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis.
Of all those facts, however, none are in the top five list put together by the team at Prolete Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine in Milford, Connecticut. Here are the most important facts you should know about rheumatoid arthritis.
1. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition
Your immune system normally identifies and attacks bacteria, viruses, and other organisms that make you sick. When you have an autoimmune condition, the immune system mistakenly identifies part of your own body as an invader and mounts an attack against that tissue.
Rheumatoid arthritis develops when your immune system harms the synovium, a tissue that lines the inner surface of your joints. As a result, the lining becomes inflamed and you develop swelling, pain, and stiffness.
2. Rheumatoid arthritis has a unique set of symptoms
The joint pain and stiffness caused by rheumatoid arthritis are classic symptoms similar to those found in osteoarthritis. But rheumatoid arthritis has unique symptoms that set it apart from osteoarthritis, such as:
- Symptoms affect four or more small joints, often starting with your fingers
- Symptoms are symmetrical, affecting the same joints on both sides of your body
- Morning stiffness that lasts an hour or longer
By comparison, osteoarthritis causes morning stiffness that typically lasts 30 minutes or less.
3. Medication is essential for preventing joint deformities
Joint inflammation appears at the start of rheumatoid arthritis and doesn’t improve without medication. Ongoing inflammation changes the bone, leading to excessive bone erosion and joint deformities — a hallmark trait of rheumatoid arthritis.
Today, we have new medications called disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs and biologic response modifiers that are engineered to protect your joints. These medications stop the inflammatory cascade and prevent deformities.
4. Rheumatoid arthritis causes body-wide symptoms
The inflammation that begins in your joints can spread throughout your body, causing a wide range of symptoms depending on the part of the body affected. Body-wide problems affect about 40% of all patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
Some of the most common problems include:
- Eye disorders, such as scleritis and uveitis
- Cardiovascular disease, such as accelerated atherosclerosis
- Blood disorders, such as thrombocytosis and anemia
- Interstitial lung disease, such as pleural effusion and nodules
- Osteoporosis and osteopenia
Rheumatoid arthritis is also associated with problems affecting your kidneys, salivary glands, nerves, and bone marrow.
5. Exercise should be part of your treatment plan
You may not feel like exercising when your joints are painful, swollen, and stiff, but physical activity is one of the best ways to:
- Improve joint function
- Increase range of motion
- Reduce your pain
- Boost your energy
- Get better quality sleep
- Enhance your immune function
- Uplift your emotional well-being
While exercise is vital, it’s also important to know how long you can safely exercise and what type of exercise you can perform without triggering a flare-up. With our extensive experience in physical therapy and rehabilitation, we can develop an exercise plan that fits your lifestyle and works for your stage of rheumatoid arthritis.
To learn more about treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, call Prolete Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine or schedule an appointment online today.