1 in 100 people are affected by rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in India. RA is an autoimmune arthritis that can cause inflammation in your joints leading to stiffness, severe pain and immobility as well. This condition is more common in women compared to men, especially in the age group of 30 to 60 years. People tend to report this condition only after they witness severe health complications which is why it becomes difficult to treat this autoimmune disease. In order to spread awareness about these conditions, the International Foundation for Autoimmune and Autoinflammatory Arthritis initiated the World Autoimmune Arthritis Day on 20th May way back in 2012. This day also aims to help you understand the difference between general arthritis (mostly triggered by age or sedentary lifestyle, bad posture, weak bones, etc.) and an autoimmune arthritis.
Autoimmune arthritis is a type of arthritis that affects your immune system. In this condition your defence mechanism attacks your own body. The most common manifestation of an autoimmune arthritis is found in swollen joints. But they can also affect other parts of the body. Apart from RA, there are various other types of autoimmune arthritis like psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, gout, lupus. However, as already mentioned, rheumatoid arthritis is the most common autoimmune arthritis that affects millions across the globe.
WHAT IS RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS? As mentioned already, it is an autoimmune arthritis where your immune cells attacks the healthy tissues of the body causing inflammation in your joints. RA usually targets your hands, wrists, knees and feet. If you are suffering from RA, you are likely to experience symptoms like persistent pain in your joints, swelling and stiffness in your joints, tiredness and high body temperature. If you see any of these symptoms, you should visit a rheumatologist within 6 to 8 weeks to treat your condition effectively.
Rheumatoid arthritis can be difficult to diagnose in the early stage since the signs and symptoms mimic those of other diseases. However, your doctor may suggest a battery of diagnostic tests to diagnose the condition. These include imaging tests like X-ray, MRI and CT scan and blood tests to check Rh Factor, Anti-CCP antibodies, complete blood count, erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR, or sed rate) or C-reactive protein (CRP). Once the doctor confirms the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, he may prescribe you with OTC drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen sodium. If medications don’t help and your condition worsens, deforming your joints and making movement impossible, you may need a corrective surgery. Tendon repair (to treat loose or damaged tendon), joint fusion (to realign your joint) and total joint replacement are few of the surgical options available to for managing the outcomes of rheumatoid arthritis.
However, if you think rheumatoid arthritis can only affect your joints, you are wrong. “Rheumatoid arthritis is not a disease which is limited to joints only. It can affect the whole body. Usually, RA affects your joints, but it can also cause damage to your lungs, brain, eyes, skin and heart due to the inflammation in these parts of the body,” says Dr Gupta. Since, you cannot prevent an autoimmune arthritis, the only option to live a normal life with this condition is managing its symptoms by and seeking medical help. On this World Autoimmune Arthritis Day, we tell you how RA can damage other body parts.
Skin Rheumatoid arthritis can cause inflammation inside your body which leads to various health complications. In the advanced cases of RA, you may experience skin rashes in the form of red and itchy marks. If the reason behind your rash is RA,you will see these itchy marks appear on your fingertips. This condition can also cause rheumatoid nodules, swelling of the tissue under your skin resulting in skin bumps. The size can vary in size from person to person. Usually these skin problems related to RA are found in the older generation. In a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the researchers revealed that people above the age of 60 suffering from rheumatoid arthritis are more likely to develop skin rashes or skin bumps.
Eye When you are suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, your immune response goes up significantly. This can impair your vision. If the inflammation reaches your episcleral layer, the thin layer of your eyes’ white part, it can lead to redness and pain in your eyes. Usually, this condition is mild, but if persists for a long period of time, it can result in loss of vision. Also, RA makes you more susceptible to Sjogren’s syndrome, a condition that leads to dry and irritated eyes. This happens when the inflammation inside your body affects the glands responsible for the production of tears. If left untreated, this condition that have a negative impact on your cornea resulting in vision impairment. According to a study published in the Israel-based journal Harefuah, people with rheumatoid arthritis are at extreme risk of damaging their cornea as compared to those who do not have this autoimmune disease. So, visit an ophthalmologist at regular intervals to check your eye health if you are suffering from RA.
Neck Much like the joints, RA can cause severe pain in your neck as well. The findings of a study published in the journal Clinical Rheumatology suggest that patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis have poor cervical function as compared to their healthy peers. If you experience stiffness and pain in your neck without any visible cause, you should immediately consult your doctor to prevent severe damage.
Heart and blood Autoimmune diseases can have an adverse effect on your whole body, especially your heart and arteries. During an RA flare-up, the membranes around your heart get inflamed which can narrow your arteries, eventually affecting your heart’s functionality. In rare scenarios, your heart muscle itself can get inflamed which significantly increases your risk of various cardiovascular ailments and ups your risk of a stroke as well due to the impaired blood flow to your brain. According to a study that featured in the American Heart Journal, the fluctuation in the immune response in people suffering from RA can lead to heart-related problems. Monitor your heart health at regular intervals if you are suffering from RA.