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January 19, 2017 | Health Advice

February 2nd is Rheumatoid Arthritis Awareness Day

How Much Do You Know About Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Most people think of arthritis as an “old person’s” disease. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Arthritis can affect people of all ages and is the number one cause of disability in the United States. While there are many different kinds of arthritis, the goal of Rheumatoid Arthritis Day on February 2 is to bring greater recognition of this chronic condition, which affects roughly 1.5 million Americans.

What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)?

The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, a degenerative condition that starts when cartilage covering the surface of the bone within the joint is damaged or wears away, resulting in bone rubbing on bone in one or more joints. Unlike osteoarthritis, RA is an autoimmune disease, meaning that the immune system mistakes the body’s own tissues — in this case, the lining of the joints and other organs — and attacks them.

This creates inflammation, leading to pain, swelling, and stiffness. If left untreated, RA can damage the cartilage and bone, causing the joints to shift out of place and sometimes become permanently deformed.

What Are the Signs of RA?

People with RA are most likely to notice swelling, pain, and warmth in the joints of the hands, feet, wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles. If a joint on one side of the body is affected, the same joint on the other side usually is, too. There may be stiffness in the morning or after rest, fatigue, a low-grade fever and weight loss.

Since RA can affect other organs, symptoms aren’t limited to the joints. For example, studies show that prior to diagnosis, rheumatoid disease may cause a higher rate of stroke, atrial fibrillation, silent heart attacks, and sudden cardiac deaths.

The symptoms can wax and wane, with periods when pain and swelling disappears interspersed with flares when the symptoms increase in intensity.

Kids Can Get Arthritis Too

Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common type of arthritis in children under the age of 17. Also known as juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), meaning it’s not clear what causes the immune system to over-react, the development of JIA may be linked to heredity and environmental factors.

For adults, RA affects almost three times more women than men. The onset of the disease usually occurs between ages 30 and 60, but it often starts later for men. While a family history of RA increases the odds of having the disease, most RA patients don’t have the disease in their family.

Early Diagnosis and Treatment Are Key

Once RA has damaged the cartilage and bones, there’s no going back. That’s why it’s important to check with your family doctor at Hudson Physicians for early diagnosis and treatment options. Diagnosis is usually made after a complete physical exam, blood tests and imaging such as X-rays. With medication to help rein in the immune system, it’s possible to slow the progression of the disease and minimize pain and disability.

If you or your child has recently been diagnosed with RA, contact the Arthritis Foundation in your area. They’re a great resource to help guide you the best care. They can even connect you with camps and conferences so you and your child can meet others who are going through the same challenges.