Arthritis which means inflammation of the joint (which in turn implies a constellation of pain, redness, local warmth, swelling and a loss of function of that part) has many causes and is often a starting point for evaluation for a number of diseases.
Thus inflammation of the joint or arthritis may have as innocuous a cause as a viral fever, which will usually subside by itself even without any treatment to a vasculitis which can be life threatening; therefore arthritis is a symptom which should not be ignored particularly if it persists for more than 4 – 6 weeks. Though primarily a disease of the joints, rheumatoid arthritis may also affect the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, blood, or nerves.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is a disease is not uncommon and estimated to have a prevalence of about 1% of the population in India. It is an autoimmune disease, meaning the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy tissues. The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown. It is thought to be due to a combination of genetic, environmental, and hormonal factors.
Rheumatoid arthritis as disease strikes people in the prime of their youth, in the 20’s to 40’s, affects mostly females and affects the small joints of the hands and feet as well as the larger joints; it is reiterated that it can affect any organ of the body.
It is interesting to know that children as young as 2 years can suffer from arthritis – the arthritis in children are described by a group of diseases called JIA or Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis. These children may have RF and ANA being positive but they seem to have a disease different from adults. The Rheumatology Service of NH has at least 10 children in the 2 – 4 age groups who are doing very well on treatment.
The diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a clinical one, aided by blood tests and X-rays if required. The blood test most commonly used to help in the diagnosis is RF or Rheumatoid Factor, sometimes written as RA (rheumatoid arthritis) Factor –this nomenclature is misleading because it implies that it is associated only with RA whereas it can be found in a number of diseases. Another misconception prevailing with the lay public and even with some health care professionals is that if the RF is negative then the arthritis is not RA; it is emphasized that the presence of RF is NOT required to make a diagnosis of RA; RA can be present even if RF is negative. Many of such cases will have another antibody called anti-CCP present. However RA may be present even with anti-CCP being negative.
The most important thing to follow if you are diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis is to see a Rheumatologist, not becoming a couch potato, not skipping doctor appointments and taking the prescribed medications regularly.