What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the tissue that lines the inside of the joints, or synovium. In order to attempt to lubricate and protect the joints, the synovium creates a fluid which causes swelling and pain. Without treatment, the inflammation can damage the cartilage at the ends of the bones as well as the bones themselves.
Over time, the inflammation and damage will cause the joints to become loose, unstable, stiff, and painful. The gradual loss of cartilage can lead to loss of mobility and joint deformity. Since rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disease, or a disease that affects the entire body, it can also negatively impact other systems such as the cardiovascular and respiratory system.
Doctors recommend treating rheumatoid arthritis as early and as quickly as possible. You may have rheumatoid arthritis if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Joint pain, tenderness, swelling, or stiffness for 6 weeks or longer
- Morning stiffness for 30 minutes or longer
- Inflammation of smaller joints, such as wrists, hands, and feet
It is common for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers to experience flares which last for days, weeks, or months. You may also experience fatigue, loss of appetite, or a low-grade fever. Dryness, pain, and inflammation may also occur in the eyes, mouth, skin, lungs, and blood vessels.
While researchers understand that rheumatoid arthritis is the result of an abnormal response of the immune system, it is not yet known what exactly triggers it. Evidence suggests that genes, hormones, and environmental factors are all possible causes of RA.
- Genes: researchers have found that those who carry a specific genetic marker, called HLA-DR4, have a fivefold greater chance of developing RA than others. However, not all people with the gene develop RA, and not all people with RA have the gene. More research needs to be performed until we can fully understand the genetic causes of rheumatoid arthritis.
- Sex: Over 70% of rheumatoid arthritis sufferers are women, suggesting that female hormones have an influence in triggering the disease.
- Trauma: Some research indicates that RA may be triggered by the body’s physical and emotional response to trauma.
- Environmental factors: Outside agents such as bacteria, viruses, allergens, air pollution, and cigarette smoke may trigger RA. There is also evidence that supports that silica, asbestos, and other building materials are influencing factors. For example, many emergency workers at the World Trade Center collapse have developed autoimmune diseases.
Doctors recommend an aggressive rheumatoid arthritis treatment that stops inflammation as quickly and early as possible. The ultimate goal is to achieve remission, or a substantial period with minimal or no signs of inflammation.
A variety of medications can be used to fight rheumatoid arthritis. These may either ease symptoms or inhibit the structural damage to the joints and organs.
- NSAIDs are generally used to reduce pain and inflammation. Those who are prone to developing stomach ulcers may be prescribed an alternative designed to be safer for the stomach.
- DMARDs, or disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, were developed specifically to modify the course of arthritis diseases. Most DMARDs target the entire immune system, with the exception of Biologics, which target specific parts of the inflammation.
- Corticosteroids are quick-acting anti-inflammatory medications generally used while waiting for NSAIDs and DMARDs to take effect.
In addition to medication, there are several options which rheumatoid arthritis sufferers can do to relieve their symptoms. These include:
- Heat. Heating pads help to relax muscles, and relaxing in a warm bath can bring pain relief.
- A massage from a therapist can ease pain and give you greater range of motion.
- Light exercise. Although exercise can be painful for RA sufferers, research has found that light, low-impact exercise such as swimming, walking, yoga, and cycling can actually help reduce pain.
- Wearing a medical-grade compression sleeve. Many of our compression sleeves, such as the WS6 Wrist Compression Sleeve, KS7 Knee Compression Sleeve, and FS6+ Leg Compression Sleeve, have been used by rheumatoid arthritis sufferers to great effect. The compression and warmth provided by the sleeves works to provide support and firmness to the impacted area.
For more information about how compression products can help assist your rheumatoid arthritis treatment, click here.
PLEASE NOTE: While some or all of these options may be effective in temporarily easing the pain of plantar fasciitis, they can also be difficult, costly, uncomfortable, and even dangerous!