Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Health Care and Rheumatoid Arthritis

After four decades on the decline, rheumatoid arthritis is on the upswing among women in the United States according to a study published by the Mayo Clinic and reported by Third Age Health. From 1955 to 1994, the incidence of rheumatoid arthritis had continually been on the decline. That apparently changed beginning in the mid-1990s. When Mayo researchers analyzed patient data from early 1995 to the start of 2005, they found that both the incidence and prevalence (percentage) of the condition were rising. Researchers say it's not clear why this is happening, but an environmental factor may have a role in the shifting incidence and prevalence among women.

Also, a Reuters news article posted on Medscape online indicates serious infections during infancy may predispose individuals to early onset rheumatoid arthritis, Swedish researchers report in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases. Previous studies have suggested that infections somehow trigger autoimmune diseases later in life, but the Swedish findings raise the possibility that infections may interfere with normal maturation of the immune system. The study included 333 cases of RA diagnosed between 16 and 29 years of age, and 3,334 cases of juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). Each case was matched by age and gender with four control subjects. Results indicate that infections during the first year of life and possibly also factors related to size at and timing of birth may be of aetiological importance in the pathogenesis of RA and JIA. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic, debilitating disease that affects an estimated 2 million people, and healthcare costs from RA can reach $65 billion annually. Although the cause of RA is unknown, research is rapidly advancing to discover the mechanisms that lead to joint damage and subsequent arthritis, and those mechanisms may reveal targets for treatment. Markers for disease activity and outcomes in rheumatoid arthritis are crucial for tailoring the treatment to the needs of each individual.

According to MedicineNet.com, Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis can also cause inflammation of the tissue around the joints, as well as in other organs in the body. Autoimmune diseases are illnesses that occur when the body tissues are mistakenly attacked by its own immune system. The immune system is a complex organization of cells and antibodies designed normally to "seek and destroy" invaders of the body, particularly infections. Patients with autoimmune diseases have antibodies in their blood that target their own body tissues, where they can be associated with inflammation. Because it can affect multiple other 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.

Typically, however, according to MedicineNet.com, rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive illness that has the potential to cause 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. The inflammation of rheumatoid disease can also occur in tissues around the joints, such as the tendons, ligaments, and muscles. In some patients with rheumatoid arthritis, chronic inflammation leads to the destruction of the cartilage, bone, and ligaments, causing deformity of the joints. Damage to the joints can occur early in the disease and be progressive. Moreover, studies have shown that the progressive damage to the joints does not necessarily correlate with the degree of pain, stiffness, or swelling present in the joints.

The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis come and go, depending on the degree of tissue inflammation. When body tissues are inflamed, the disease is active. When tissue inflammation subsides, the disease is inactive (in remission). Remissions can occur spontaneously or with treatment, and can last weeks, months, or years. During remissions, symptoms of the disease disappear, and patients generally feel well. When the disease becomes active again (relapse), symptoms return. The return of disease activity and symptoms is called a flare. The course of rheumatoid arthritis varies from patient to patient, and periods of flares and remissions are typical as reported by MedicineNet.com.

When the disease is active, symptoms can include fatigue, lack of appetite, low-grade fever, muscle and joint aches, and stiffness according to MedicineNet.com. Muscle and joint stiffness are usually most notable in the morning and after periods of inactivity. Arthritis is common during disease flares. Also during flares, joints frequently become red, swollen, painful, and tender. This occurs because the lining tissue of the joint (synovium) becomes inflamed, resulting in the production of excessive joint fluid (synovial fluid). The synovium also thickens with inflammation (synovitis).

In rheumatoid arthritis, as reported by MedicineNet.com, multiple joints are usually inflamed in a symmetrical pattern (both sides of the body affected). The small joints of both the hands and wrists are often involved. Simple tasks of daily living, such as turning door knobs and opening jars can become difficult during flares. The small joints of the feet are also commonly involved. Occasionally, only one joint is inflamed. When only one joint is involved, the arthritis can mimic the joint inflammation caused by other forms of arthritis, such as gout or joint infection. Chronic inflammation can cause damage to body tissues, cartilage and bone. This leads to a loss of cartilage and erosion and weakness of the bones as well as the muscles, resulting in joint deformity, destruction, and loss of function. Rarely, rheumatoid arthritis can even affect the joint that is responsible for the tightening of our vocal cords to change the tone of our voice, the cricoarytenoid joint. When this joint is inflamed, it can cause hoarseness of voice.

Since rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disease, its inflammation can affect organs and areas of the body other than the joints according to MedicineNet.com. Inflammation of the glands of the eyes and mouth can cause dryness of these areas and is referred to as Sjogren's syndrome. Rheumatoid inflammation of the lung lining (pleuritis) causes chest pain with deep breathing or coughing. The lung tissue itself can also become inflamed, and sometimes nodules of inflammation (rheumatoid nodules) develop within the lungs. Inflammation of the tissue (pericardium) surrounding the heart, called pericarditis, can cause a chest pain that typically changes in intensity when lying down or leaning forward. The rheumatoid disease can reduce the number of red blood cells (anemia) and white blood cells. Decreased white cells can be associated with an enlarged spleen (referred to as Felty's syndrome) and can increase the risk of infections.

MedicineNet.com reports that firm lumps under the skin (rheumatoid nodules) can occur around the elbows and fingers where there is frequent pressure. Even though these nodules usually do not cause symptoms, occasionally they can become infected. A rare, serious complication, usually with long-standing rheumatoid disease, is blood-vessel inflammation (vasculitis). Vasculitis can impair blood supply to tissues and lead to tissue death. This is most often initially visible as tiny black areas around the nail beds or as leg ulcers. The first step in the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis is a meeting between the doctor and the patient. The doctor reviews the history of symptoms, examines the joints for inflammation and deformity, the skin for rheumatoid nodules, and other parts of the body for inflammation. Certain blood and X-ray tests are often obtained. The diagnosis will be based on the pattern of symptoms, the distribution of the inflamed joints, and the blood and x-ray findings. Several visits may be necessary before the doctor can be certain of the diagnosis. A doctor with special training in arthritis and related diseases is called a rheumatologist.

According to MedicineNet.com, the distribution of joint inflammation is important to the doctor in making a diagnosis. In rheumatoid arthritis, the small joints of the hands, wrists, feet, and knees are typically inflamed in a symmetrical distribution (affecting both sides of the body). When only one or two joints are inflamed, the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis becomes more difficult. The doctor may then perform other tests to exclude arthritis due to infection or gout. The detection of rheumatoid nodules (described above), most often around the elbows and fingers, can suggest the diagnosis. Joint x-rays may be normal or only show swelling of soft tissues early in the disease. As the disease progresses x-rays can show bony erosions typical of rheumatoid arthritis in the joints. Joint x-rays can also be helpful in monitoring the progression of disease and joint damage over time. Bone scanning, a radioactive test procedure, can demonstrate the inflamed joints.

The doctor may elect to perform an office procedure called arthrocentesis as reported by MedicineNet.com. In this procedure, a sterile needle and syringe are used to drain joint fluid out of the joint for study in the laboratory. Analysis of the joint fluid, in the laboratory, can help to exclude other causes of arthritis, such as infection and gout. Arthrocentesis can also be helpful in relieving joint swelling and pain. Occasionally, cortisone medications are injected into the joint during the arthrocentesis in order to rapidly relieve joint inflammation and further reduce symptoms. There is no known cure for rheumatoid arthritis. To date, the goal of treatment in rheumatoid arthritis is to reduce joint inflammation and pain, maximize joint function, and prevent joint destruction and deformity. Early medical intervention has been shown to be important in improving outcomes. Aggressive management can improve function, stop damage to joints as seen on x-rays, and prevent work disability. Optimal treatment for the disease involves a combination of medications, rest, joint-strengthening exercises, joint protection, and patient (and family) education. Treatment is customized according to many factors such as disease activity, types of joints involved, general health, age, and patient occupation. Treatment is most successful when there is close cooperation between the doctor, patient, and family members.

RA affects 1.3 million Americans according to the Arthritis Foundation. Currently, the cause of RA is unknown, although there are several theories. And while there is no cure, it is easier than ever to control RA through the use of new drugs, exercise, joint protection techniques and self-management techniques. While there is no good time to have rheumatoid arthritis, advancements in research and drug development mean that more people with RA are living happier, healthier and more fulfilling lives.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

1 comment:

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