Rheumatoid Arthritis: Causes and Treatments

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Article Authors: Gordon Slater| Tandose Sambo 

Arthritis is one of the most common orthopaedic conditions that adults experience. As an overarching category arthritis occurs when the joints of the body degenerate. The root cause of joint degeneration can be influenced by several factors. One classification of joint degeneration is known as Rheumatoid Arthritis or RA. RA is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease, and it involves the immune system attacking the wrong cells. Under normal conditions, the body’s immune system is designed to attack any invaders such as viruses, bacteria or any foreign object that enters the body. With RA, the body’s own healthy cells are attacked by the immune system, and inflammation occurs as a secondary outcome to the attack. 

Patients often find the joints swollen and painful and several joints in the body are attacked at once. The primary pain points are the hands, wrists and knees. 

Mechanism of Rheumatoid Arthritis 

Once the internal attack of rheumatoid arthritis occurs, there is inflammation of the joint lining. The next phase after tissue damage is joint tissue degeneration. When the inflammation subsides, the joint stability is impacted and the joint becomes misshapen. As RA propagates through the body, it will traverse to other tissues and organs throughout the body. The lungs, heart and eyes are the most commonly affected organs for patients with RA. 

While symptoms vary from patient to patient, the most commonly experienced symptoms include [1]: 

*Pain or aching in more than one joint

*Stiffness in more than one joint

*Tenderness and swelling in more than one joint

*The same symptoms on both sides of the body (such as in both hands or both knees)

*Weight loss


*Fatigue or tiredness


Risk Factors that Influence RA 

While various factors are at play in the development of RA, there are a few patient classifications that show a higher propensity to the condition. These include: 

Age: The older the patient, the higher the likelihood of developing RA. Adults sixty and older are the most at risk.

Gender: Women have a higher risk of developing RA than men do. The ratio can be as high as 2:1. Women who have not given birth are also at higher risk of developing RA.

Genetic Traits: There are various conditions in the body that are tied to genetic inheritance. For this reason, doctors always ask for family history as they are examining the patient. RA patients with the  HLA (human leukocyte antigen) class II genotypes have been found to have a higher propensity to develop RA. 

Lifestyle: Lifestyle is a root cause of accelerating the propagation of RA. Patients who are overweight, and who smoke increase their chances of developing RA or accelerating the condition if it already exists in the body. Even being around second hand smoke can influence the onset of RA. By making the right lifestyle changes, you can minimise the frequency of RA attacks. 

 A consultation with your orthopaedic surgeon will enable your RA case to be properly assessed, and a suitable treatment plan to be established. Your orthopaedic surgeon will do a physical examination as well as look at your X-rays and lab results. Effective treatments are then prescribed. 

Rheumatoid Arthritis is a medical condition that is best treated in the early phases of detection. Doctors will prescribe medications such as  disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) in order to slow down the autoimmune response. There are also physical self-management strategies that patients can utilize in order to improve the strength of their joints. For more severe cases, surgical intervention is often the course of action. 

There is always hope for treatment, and patients who eat right, manage their body weight and remain physically active are better able to manage their condition. Aim to exercise for 150 minutes per week and you will be able to manage your weight, and bring balance to your joints. 

Reference: Rheumatoid Arthritis: https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/rheumatoid-arthritis.html

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Dr. Gordon Slater

Dr. Slater is one of the first foot and ankle surgeons in Australia to adopt minimally invasive surgical techniques. He routinely uses MIS to treat a range of conditions, including bunions.

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Dr Gordon Slater is a highly-skilled surgeon specialising in foot and ankle conditions and sports injuries. Dr Slater is one of the first foot and ankle surgeons in Australia to adopt minimally invasive surgical techniques. He routinely uses MIS to treat a range of conditions, including bunions. MIS  has many advantages including shorter operating times, reduced post-operative pain, reduced risk of infection, minimal scarring and better cosmetic outcomes.

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