The fatigue and joint pain that rheumatoid arthritis (RA) causes can be stressful, but there is more to this disease than just inflammation of the joints. Read on to discover more about this chronic condition that affects 1.5 million people in the United States alone.
RA is an autoimmune disease. This means that the body’s immune system attacks normal cells and tissues by mistake. Instead of combating threats and acting as the body’s sentinels against foreign invaders, the immune system goes after your own body. This is the same case with lupus, multiple sclerosis, Type 1 diabetes, and psoriasis.
Just like with certain disorders, your doctor will tell you that there is no definite cause for RA. But certain bad habits and a number of ‘natural’ risk factors can contribute to the disease. Age and genetics are among the common factors, although children and young adults can also be affected. External factors such as smoking, obesity and a toxic environment can trigger the joint pain, the same way that these cause other disorders like hypertension.
The inflammation of the joints produces a tingling or burning sensation, and it can be felt in any of your joints. Fingers and toes, wrists and ankles, elbows, shoulders, and hips can all be affected, and the pain can affect both sides of your body at the same time. Apart from this, there is also ‘morning pain’ where you can experience swelling, tenderness or stiffness of your joints in the morning.
There is a direct link between RA and thinning bones and osteoporosis, as the medications used to treat RA cause bone loss. Also, the lack of activity due to the pain contributes to loss of muscle and bone mass, which increases the risk for osteoporosis.
Another risk of RA is developing cardiovascular disorders, conditions that affect the blood vessels and the heart. It’s unclear why there is a link between RA and heart diseases, but RA does double the risk for some heart conditions such as stroke, atherosclerosis, and heart attack. To reduce the dangers, a doctor may require you to quit bad habits such as smoking, eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly.
Apart from the cardiovascular system, RA also affects the respiratory system, especially if you’re smoking. Most common problems include scarring of the linings within the lungs, rheumatoid nodules, and pleural disease. If you’re experiencing shortness of breath or chest pain, then the lungs or the linings within the lungs may be inflamed, which may be linked to RA. You may also develop rheumatoid nodules, which are small lumps formed in the lungs that may cause the lungs to collapse.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is common for people with RA. It affects the wrists and fingers up to your arms. You may feel tingling, numbness, weakness or pain in the affected areas. In severe cases, you may experience loss of feeling in the fingers, less grip strength and worsened muscle cramping.
Do not be afraid to see a rheumatologist if symptoms persist. RA should be treated the earliest possible to avoid any complications and delay its progression.