Understanding Rheumatoid Arthritis


Posted by Kia Crawford on May 23rd, 2012 in Body, Education | No Comments

Many of our residents at Dogwood Forest Assisted Living in Gainesville have been affected by arthritis.  As we grow older, we may feel aches and pain. After all, our bodies have worked hard for us. However, osteoarthritis that many of our residents experience is completely different from it’s more complex cousin, Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).

RA can be debilitating and more people than you know are affected by it.  As a matter of fact, according the CDC (Center for Disease Control) there are over 1.3 Americans with RA. The disease can affect anyone. However, there are 3 times as many women with the disease than men. Many often mistake RA with osteoarthritis however,  there are significant differences between RA (rheumatoid arthritis) and osteoarthritis.

Differences Between Osteoarthritis and RA

RA and osteoarthritis have some similar characteristics. However, osteoarthritis is far more common than RA and typically occurs with age.  On the contrary, RA is an autoimmune disease, so the difference between the two is quite distinct. Osteoarthritis typically affects those in the older population. However, RA can affect anyone at anytime. A senior living in Gainesville, Ga. has a high probability of developing osteoarthritis. However, the chances of a 12 year old having osteoarthritis is slim. Nevertheless a 12 year old can develop juvenile arthritis, which is actually juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. As mentioned earlier, RA affects about 1.3 million people however arthritis affects around 50 million adults, half of them over the age of 65.

The pain of arthritis is caused by the wearing away of cartilage eventually leading bone grinding against bone. This is really more of body mechanics issue. However, with RA the body begins to attack it’s own joints. Pain associated with RA is actually a result of an autoimmune response. The immune system will spot an invader and target the joint’s lining. Cell-signaling molecules can pour into the blood stream leading to inflammation and fever. This is how RA can lead to heart, lung and eye damage. For pain relief, osteoarthritis patients take a number of over the counter drugs to manage the pain except for in some cases where stronger narcotics or steroids are necessary. However, RA patients may require drugs that are associated with cancer patients such as chemotherapy to stop joint destruction. Often the pain in people with RA will not involve the joints at all, but a person my feel headaches, fatigue, muscle pain, nerve damage or even depression. Although, both osteoarthritis and RA affects the joints, they do in different ways. Osteoarthritis usually affects larger joints such as knees, shoulders and hips, while RA typically affects smaller joints such as fingers, wrist and toes. Unlike osteoarthritis, the affected areas in RA patients will become inflamed. Therefore the two presents itself completely different. RA can leave a disfigurement to smaller joints such as hands and knuckles. The joints affected can appear deformed leaving on smaller joints such as the fingers to appear scrunched or pulling to either side. Osteoarthritis rarely leaves its mark at that way. Some RA patients develop nodules under the skin which could mean the disease is quite advanced.

Causes, Onset and Prevention

Doctors do not know the exact cause of RA, however, genetics, smoking and other environmental exposures could ramp up the immune response sending it on its joint destroying rampage. Links such infections agents such as virus and bacteria have also been studied in regards to RA. Some studies even suggest female hormones might cause the disease, which could be the reason it affects more women.

The disease can happen abruptly in anyone. Unfortunately, there is not a way to prevent the disease. However, getting help as soon as you notice symptoms will enable doctors to detect it earlier. Thus, helping you to manage RA better long term.