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Rheumatoid Arthritis - Overview

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the most common type of autoimmune arthritis. It is a form of a joint disorder, an autoimmune condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the joints and surrounding tissues. It gradually progresses to assault other systems and organs of the body, including the heart.

RA tends to affect more women than men, although no age group is exempt. The disorder appears to ‘peak’ between age 35 and 55 in women, and age 40 and 60 in men. It often affects the small joints of the hands, wrists, ankles, knees and cervical spine. The shoulders, elbows and hips may be less frequently involved, but the disorder can impinge on major tissues in the body, including the lymph nodes, bone marrow, liver, spleen, kidneys, digestive system, heart, eyes, muscles and nerves.

When not appropriately or adequately treated, RA can gradually lead to bone, cartilage and ligament damage, including joint deformity.

Homeopathy has good scope in RA management, especially in the early stages before deformities set in.

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Quick Facts

  • RA affects almost 1 to 2% of the population globally.
  • Women are thrice as commonly affected as men.
  • This joint disorder commonly affects more than one joint and can affect any joint in the body.
  • It starts during the middle ages and is most common in older people.
  • The exact cause of RA is not known.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

RA, being an auto-immune disease by nature, affects multiple systems of the body (hence called a systemic disease) though primarily joints are affected. Auto-immune disorders are those in which the body's protector cells (immune system) mistakenly start attacking the body's own tissues. In this case, the immune system attacks the joints and surrounding tissues, and gradually progresses to attack other systems and organs of the body as well.

RA has a global prevalence and affects females three times more commonly than males. It can occur at any age but is most commonly seen to begin between 25 and 55 years of age.

It is a potentially crippling disease which runs an intermittent course marked by phases of unpredictable exacerbations and spontaneous remissions. The disease primarily attacks the peripheral joints, which include the proximal interphalangeal joints (PIP) and metacarpophalangeal (MCP) joints of the hands, wrists, shoulders, elbows, knees, ankles, and metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joints of the feet. The muscles, tendons and ligaments surrounding the joints are also affected by the disease.

The process of inflammation in RA progresses through four stages:

  • Synovitis - Inflammation of the synovial membrane that lines the inside of the joint; results in pain and swelling
  • Gradual destruction of the joint capsule, cartilage and bone
  • Disturbed alignment of the joints leading to dislocation and subluxation; visible deformities and muscle atrophy are also seen in this stage
  • Fusion of the joint resulting in total immobility of the joint

Around 10% people who suffer from RA progress to the fourth stage resulting in total disability. Treatment can help to keep the disease under check and slow down its rate of progress.

Chronic pain and disability are amongst the hallmark features of RA besides symmetric affection of the joints in many cases. Apart from causing polyarthritis, RA also affects the skin, eyes, nerves, heart and blood vessels thus, earning the name of a systemic disorder.

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