LIFESTYLE NEWS - Rheumatoid arthritis is more common than we think, affecting approximately 1% of people worldwide.
The disease is three times more common in women as in men. It affects people of all races equally. The disease can begin at any age and even affects children, but it most often starts after 40 years of age and before 60. In some families, multiple members can be affected, suggesting a genetic basis for the disorder.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the joints. Autoimmune diseases are illnesses that occur when the body’s tissues are mistakenly attacked by their own immune system. It’s a chronic progressive disease, causing inflammation in the joints and resulting in painful deformity and immobility, especially in the fingers, wrists, feet and ankles. The disease can also cause inflammation and injury in other organs in the body.
Because it can affect multiple organs of the body, rheumatoid arthritis is referred to as a systemic illness and is sometimes called rheumatoid disease. While rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic illness, meaning it can last for years, patients may experience long periods without symptoms.
However, rheumatoid arthritis is typically a progressive illness that has the potential to cause significant joint destruction and functional disability. A joint is where two bones meet to allow movement of body parts. Arthritis means joint inflammation.
The joint inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis causes swelling, pain, stiffness, and redness in the joints. In some people with rheumatoid arthritis, chronic inflammation leads to the destruction of the cartilage, bone, and ligaments.
The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown but viruses, bacteria and fungi are suspected. It is also believed to be genetically inherited (hereditary). Certain genes have been identified that increase the risk for rheumatoid arthritis. It is also suspected that certain infections or factors in the environment might trigger the activation of the immune system in susceptible individuals. This misdirected immune system then attacks the body’s own tissues. Environmental factors also seem to play some role.
The following factors may increase your risk of rheumatoid arthritis:
- Sex: more common is women.
- Age: can occur at any age, but it most commonly begins between the ages of 40 and 60.
- Family history: If a member of your family has rheumatoid arthritis, you may have an increased risk.
- Smoking: smoking can increase your risk of getting arthritis and it is also associated with greater disease severity.
- Environmental exposures: some exposures such as asbestos or silica may increase the risk for developing rheumatoid arthritis.
- Obesity: People who are overweight or obese appear to be at higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, especially in women diagnosed with the disease when they were 55 or younger.