Decoding Rheumatoid Arthritis

by Dr Poornima Patil
What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease. It causes joints to swell and can result in pain, stiffness, and progressive loss of function. In addition to joint pain and stiffness, people with RA may also have symptoms such as weight loss, low-grade fever, and fatigue. Over time, the inflammation of RA can cause damage to the joints. In some patients, this may lead to permanent joint damage. It may begin to interfere with daily activities, making them more difficult and painful to do. For these reasons, it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis as early as possible. Talk to your doctor. Together, you and your doctor can find a plan to manage your RA.

Who Gets RA?

About 7 million Indians suffer from RA. It affects people worldwide at a similar rate. RA often begins in middle age, but can start at any age. RA affects 2 to 3 times as many women than men.

What Causes RA?

The exact cause of RA is not known. Research has found that there are many possible causes,

  • Genetics- People with family members who have RA may be more likely to get it
  • Hormones- Female hormones may play a role in the disease
  • Smoking
  • Viruses or bacteria- RA may be related to viruses or bacteria that you come in contact with during your life

How Does RA Affect the Body?

Some of the most common symptoms a person with RA may experience are stiffness in the morning and pain and swelling of joints—often in the same joint on both sides of the body. As RA progresses, joint damage may worsen. This can also cause the surrounding muscles, ligaments, and tendons to become weak and unable to work normally. Apart from joints it can involve other organs in body like heart, lungs, blood vessels, eyes. That is why it is so important to get an accurate diagnosis as early as possible.

Signs and Symptoms of RA

Painful joints

Swollen joints

Stiffness in joints, particularly in the morning

Low fever


Lumps under the skin, especially on the hands or elbows

Weight loss

Dry eyes and mouth


If you think you may be experiencing RA symptoms, don’t wait. Make an appointment to see a rheumatologist, a specialist who deals with joint diseases. Be sure to tell him or her about all of your symptoms, even if some of them only happen once in a while.

How Is RA Diagnosed?

There is no one test that can show that you have RA. But your doctor can use a combination of tools to help diagnose RA. Medical and family history ,Physical exam ,Lab tests and X-rays

How Is RA Treated?

Once your doctor has diagnosed your RA, it is very important to start treatment as soon as possible.

The goals of treatment are to:

Reduce pain

Decrease or stop further joint damage

Improve physical function

Medications that can help reduce inflammation, and may also slow the rate of joint damage include:

Non-biologic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)

Biologic DMARDs for patients with moderate-to-severe RA

Other oral agents used in moderate-to-severe RA alone or in combination with methotrexate or similar drugs (DMARDs)

Seeing a Rheumatologist

What Is a Rheumatologist?

After talking with your family doctor, he or she may refer you to a rheumatologist. Rheumatologists are doctors who can help diagnose and treat patients with diseases of the joints, muscles, and bones. A rheumatologist knows the signs and symptoms of certain autoimmune diseases, and is the most qualified to treat patients with RA.

Why Is Seeing a Rheumatologist Important?

Rheumatologists have special training in treating diseases of the joints, muscles, and bones. Seeing a rheumatologist may help speed diagnosis and help pinpoint an appropriate treatment plan to meet your goals.

A Rheumatologist Can Help You:

Determine if you have RA

Develop an appropriate treatment plan that can help: − Relieve joint pain, stiffness, and swelling − Slow or prevent further joint damage.

Together, you and your rheumatologist can find a plan to manage your RA.

Plan your visit with your rheumatologist. Ask questions. Take an active role in managing your RA.


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