Understanding The Progression Of Rheumatoid Arthritis

2013-09-17 | |
Last updated: 2014-11-25

While many people have heard of arthritis, awareness of Rheumatoid Arthritis is less common and even fewer understand how the disease progresses. However, the first part of a patient’s being able to manage the disease is understanding the changes to expect and what can be avoided by seeking proper treatment of the disease. To that end, it is important to understand the stages of the disease when it is left untreated.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease where the body’s natural immune response attacks the lining of joints (the synovial membrane) and results in chronic inflammation, swelling and pain. The inflammation and related swelling will result in damaged joint cartilage and bones over time, esspecially when the condition is not treated. The condition can also weaken the soft tissues around the joints including the ligaments, cartilage and tendons which can prevent the joints from working normally.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, the number of individuals around the world who have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis is about 70 million with 1.3 million in the US alone. The disease can affect anyone at any age but women are more at risk of developing this condition and are at more than twice the level of risk in comparison to men. A genetic marker, found in the white blood cells, is one of the means that physicians use to identify those at risk for the disease despite the underlying cause not yet being understood.

The Symptoms Of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis is a chronic condition that often progresses slowly and sometimes involves flare ups where the intensity of regular symptoms increases dramatically. The disease can also go into remission such that the symptoms subside or completely disappear for some period of time. The disease affects an individual throughout their lifetime and will not go away completely. There are four stages of Rheumatoid Arthritis in terms of the effects on the joints:

1. Swelling, Stiffness And Joint Pain In The First Stage Of RA

The synovia or lining of the joints will begin to swell. The swelling will cause pain, redness, stiffness around the affected joints. During this stage, X-rays are rarely helpful in diagnosing the condition because the images will not show any changes to the joints since the the primary change is soft tissue swelling.

2. Joint Damage In Second Stage Of RA

At this stage, the cells surrounding the inflamed joint lining will divide and grow rapidly in number. This will result in a thickening of the joint lining that can often disrupt the joint cavity and the joint cartilage. Over time, these changes will seriously damage the cartilage and any narrow joints because of the loss of cartilage.

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Category: Disease Information, Health Risks

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