Modern medicine is fascinating, to say the least. It can be truly something to consider that certain ailments and conditions – and their corresponding treatments and possible cures – used to be things we knew much less about. The current state of medicine has allowed us to have a much greater clarity regarding what maladies we might risk having with a particular diet or lifestyle, or what we might be able to do for ourselves in terms of avoiding these or getting past them. This is perhaps one of the truest and most well-felt advantages we have over previous generations – truly something to appreciate. Nonetheless, the effects of rheumatoid arthritis are on the minds and naturally integrated into the lives of many.
Take, for instance, arthritis. Where once this was merely viewed as an inconvenience – or, perhaps worse, with some superstitious or otherwise unscientific psuedologic attached – we have come to refine the basic knowledge of its effect on our joints. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), in particular, is a fairly common malady where the body’s immune system mistakenly targets the body’s joints, resulting in inflammation and pain. Typically the first manifestation is the thickening of the synovial tissue lining the joints, which causes the pain and swelling. The effects of rheumatoid arthritis are typically seen in the joints of the hands, ankles, knees, and feet – and the effects tend to be symmetrical, affecting both right and left joints at the same time. Nearly three times as many women as men suffer the effects of RA, and the effects tend to begin to be felt between the ages of 30 to 60.
Doctors have yet to fully unravel the root cause of rheumatoid arthritis, although it is known that an abnormal response of the body’s immune system is central to the resulting effects. Modern medical analysis also points to the genetic marker known as the HLA shared epitope as an indicator of greater susceptibility to RA – being up to five times more likely to suffer the ailment. There are other genes associated with RA, such as immune system-related gene STAT4, and chronic inflammation-related genes TRAF1 and C5. However, not everyone with these genes develops RA, and conversely not everyone with RA has these genes.
It is worth noting that closer study with modern medical techniques reveals that RA doesn’t stop at just causing pain in the joints – although for those who suffer it, this is certainly enough if a problem on its own. Nevertheless, if left unchecked, the ongoing domino effect can have a greater and greater impact on a person’s health. It is well worth keeping an eye out for these potential added risks.
1. Bone thinning
Rheumatoid arthritis, along with the corticosteroid drugs used to fight the resulting inflammation, can result in the thinning of bones and possibly also osteoporosis. This can further lead to increased risk of bone fractures since the bone isn’t as sturdy as it ordinarily is. This is overall compounded by the additional effect of decreased activity due to the RA-borne pain, which itself can decrease bone mass as well as muscle mass. One should up their vitamin D and calcium intake, and get regular bone density scans.
2. Heart disease
Rheumatoid arthritis is considered an equal risk factor for heart disease on the same footing as diabetes, high lipid count, hypertension, and smoking. It’s thought to be the case that the inflammation caused by RA is the main reason why people with RA are doubly at risk of premature heart disease and even stroke. If you have RA it would be a good idea to consider yourself at risk of heart disease and make healthier decisions accordingly – keep the diet heart-healthy, manage other risk factors like smoking, and develop better cardio through exercise.
3. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
This has been called the one cancer that’s been linked conclusively to rheumatoid arthritis. RA patients are two to four times as likely to develop this, as well as other blood cancers. Notably, the disease itself isn’t the only culprit – some medications carry a warning that they could also raise lymphoma risk, although this risk is low overall and the benefits the medication offers tend to be more significant.
Because rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the immune system mistakenly targets the body, many medications that address its effects have to suppress the immune system. This has the unfortunate side effect of raising the body’s susceptibility to infection. Thus, doctors typically test for infection before prescribing immune system-suppressing drugs.
5. Sjogren’s Syndrome
Also an autoimmune disease, Sjogren’s syndrome attacks the tear ducts and salivary glands and drastically reduces their production of fluids, resulting in dry eyes and mouth. There is no treatment for this syndrome, which arises independently or in tandem with rheumatoid arthritis, and so one must rely on moisturizing eye drops, constant rehydration, good dental hygiene and medication that increases production.
6. Lung problems
This is one of many reasons why rheumatoid arthritis is known as a systemic disease or one that affects more than one organ system. About 8% of RA patients develop scarring of the lungs, which is about four times the percentage of non-RA patients that do (2%). Rheumatoid arthritis can attack the lungs and lead to scarring, which can over time make breathing difficult. Some RA patients may also develop pleurisy, or inflammation in the lining of the lungs, which can also make breathing difficult.
If you’ve taken a look at all the unsavory potential subsequent outcomes after the onset of such a complex malady, this may seem inevitable, but other factors may exacerbate the situation. Depression has been seen to affect up to twice as many RA patients as those who don’t have it, which may be made more likely by the accompanying decrease in mobility, possible functional disability and overall reduction in quality of life. If you have RA and notice reflectively that you have been manifesting the symptoms of depression, get help – at least one study suggests that only 1 out of every 5 RA patients see a doctor for help, and this can only make the situation worse. One thing to consider is that the medications currently available are more and more effective at helping maintain and improve the quality of life.
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