Break It Down: Rheumatoid Arthritis (Video Transcript)
Rheumatoid arthritis, also known as RA, is one of the most common forms
of arthritis. It usually affects the small joints of the hand, wrist, and feet,
leading to pain, stiffness, and sometimes misalignment of joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis is very different from other forms of arthritis,
because it’s an autoimmune disease, wherein the body’s defense mechanisms
attack healthy tissues.
For most people with Rheumatoid arthritis, the disease is progressive,
meaning the symptoms are likely to worsen over time.
Recognizing the Signs:
The early symptoms of Rheumatoid arthritis are generally very mild. Many
people may not notice them for several years. Some of the symptoms are not
associated with joint pain. Unexplained fevers, loss of appetite, and a general
sense of feeling unwell are all common to RA in its early stages.
As the disease progresses, some key symptoms usually emerge. These
swollen painful joints
red lumps on the skin, called rheumatoid nodules, that may be noticed on the
knees, toes, and elbows
pain and difficulty breathing
mouth and painfully dry eyes
The image that most of us closely associate with Rheumatoid arthritis is
of large, swollen, and often deviated joints in the hand.
This is caused by prolonged inflammation, which causes the joints to
swell and muscles to atrophy, leading to bone loss and joint deformities
Diagnosing Rheumatoid arthritis can be tricky. There isn’t yet a single test
that definitively determines whether or not a person has RA. Doctors look at a
combination of the medical history, presence of key symptoms, results of blood
tests, and X-rays.
Although we don’t know precisely what causes Rheumatoid arthritis, there
are a number of treatments that can help alleviate symptoms, especially during
flare-ups, and slow progression of the disease.
The first course of action is to pay attention to lifestyle. Proper
exercise and diet can help patients ease the pain associated with arthritis. That
being said, most people who are diagnosed with RA are usually prescribed a
combination of several types of medications.
For acute pain and inflammation, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs,
such as aspirin or ibuprofen, can be effective in relieving symptoms in the
While these types of medications can help get someone through the day
with less pain, they don’t do anything to stop the progression of the
Immunosuppressants are a second class of drugs used to treat RA, they're
designed to suppress the immune system. These drugs can slow the progression of
RA by reducing the rate of damage to both cartilage and bone.
The newest class of drugs to treat RA are called “biologics,” which were
developed through genetic engineering. Where Immunosuppressants create a
broad-brush approach that targets the entire immune system, biologics target
and suppress elements of the body’s inflammatory response that are specific to
RA. The goal is to slow down the progression of the arthritis and preserve
joint function for as long as possible.