Rheumatoid arthritis is different from osteoarthritis. It is caused by an intense inflammation in the synovial joints and it can arise at any time from the teenage years onwards. It is more common in women and the peak age of onset is between 30 and 50.
Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common form of inflammatory arthritis and it affects one or two per cent of the population. Even so, it is much less common than osteoarthritis which affects almost all of us to some degree as we get older.
Some people develop nodules under the skin at sites of friction, such as the feet, the backs of the heels, the backs of the hands and the elbows. The nodules are painless and, apart from being unsightly, do not usually cause trouble. Occasionally, they grow to a large size and interfere with the wearing of shoes. The nodules are easily removed by minor surgery.
A detailed history, with a careful examination and some simple blood tests are usually all that are needed for an experienced doctor to make a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. A full blood count will show whether you are anaemic (a reduced number of red blood cells, common in rheumatoid arthritis) and an erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) will show whether inflammation is present.
A test for rheumatoid factor may help in the diagnosis. X-rays often appear normal in the early stages but they should be taken so that they can be used a s a baseline against which to compare later X-rays. X-rays of the hands and feel are the most useful.
Treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis
The aims underlying treatment for rheumatoid arthritis are to:
- relieve symptoms
- preserve muscle strength and joint movement
- protect the joints from further damage
- help the patient to lead normal a life as possible
What Happens if Rheumatoid Arthritis is not Treated?
If it is not treated, rheumatoid arthritis goes through relapses (flares) and remissions. If the flares are frequent and severe, then damage to joints accumulates and they may be destroyed.
- Rheumatoid arthritis causes joints to become inflamed – it is very different from osteoarthritis.
- A lot of help is available for people with rheumatoid arthritis, mostly from the specialists.