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About Rheumatoid Arthritis
Many people are unaware that arthritis is a term used to cover over 200 different diseases that involve symptoms of pain and inflammation of the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is among the most common and potentially disabling forms of arthritis.
This article addresses some of the basic facts about rheumatoid arthritis, to help you better understand the symptoms and causes of this disease.
Rheumatoid arthritis is not restricted to any particular area of the body. Most joints can be affected by the disease, in addition to other areas, such as the blood, the heart, and the lungs.
Arthritis is characterized by an inflammation of the joint lining, which causes the joint to be stiff and painful. The joint area may also swell, feel warm to the touch, and the skin may have a red appearance.
With rheumatoid arthritis, this inflammation can also affect salivary glands, tear ducts, and the linings of the heart and lungs.
Rheumatoid arthritis is often a life-long condition, and over the years, the disease may change in severity, changing from pain-free periods, to those of intense suffering, often abruptly and without warning.
Rheumatoid arthritis is most often first diagnosed in patients between the ages of 20 and 50. As mentioned above, the most obvious symptoms include a long-lasting joint pain and swelling, and a red and tender joint area. One distinction between arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis is where the disease presents. With arthritis, in the beginning a single joint may be affected, but with rheumatoid arthritis, often both elbows, or both knees, or other groups of joints, are affected at the same time.
Rheumatoid arthritis is in the group of auto-immune diseases. With these diseases, the body immune system is actually creating the problem. In some cases, the immune system has malfunctioned, and mistaken healthy tissue as invading tissue. When this occurs, the body attempts to destroy the joint tissue, which causes the pain and other symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
The exact cause of this malfunction has yet to be discovered, but many scientists believe that heredity and genetics play an important role in the development of rheumatoid arthritis.
When diagnosing the disease, doctors often employ a blood test which identifies the presence of the rheumatoid factor--an antibody that is often an indicator that the patient does in fact have rheumatoid arthritis. Because between 70 and 90 percent of those with rheumatoid arthritis have this antibody in their blood, it provides a fairly accurate confirmation of the disease in those with the other typical symptoms.
X-rays may also be ordered by doctors to identify the amount of joint tissue that has been affected by the disease.
If you have been experiencing symptoms such as those associated with rheumatoid arthritis for longer than two weeks, be sure to make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible for further assessment. Because of the degenerative nature of the disease, the sooner it is diagnosed, the better potential outcomes.
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