December 01, 2012

Rheumatoid arthritis

Aggressive treatment can halt the disease

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when your immune system attacks the joint linings (synovial membranes) that protect and lubricate your joints. A generation ago, it almost always led to disfigured joints and severe disability.

Today, rheumatoid arthritis is still a serious disease requiring careful treatment and management. Joint damage, discomfort and disability often occur, but can be dramatically reduced when drugs that modify the immune system are started soon after the disease begins. For some, the disease can go into a state of total or partial remission.

In recent years, doctors have gotten much better at diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis in the disease's earliest phases. This has allowed for quick, aggressive treatment as doctors strive to quickly snuff out destructive disease activity. In addition, reducing the effect of rheumatoid arthritis and its treatments on overall health has emerged as an important focus for those who have rheumatoid arthritis.

Elusive understanding

It's not entirely known what causes rheumatoid arthritis, but there's a strong genetic component that makes certain people more susceptible than others to uncertain triggering factors — such as a viral infection. The disease is three times more common in women than it is in men. It can occur at any age, and the peak rate of disease incidence is age 56. In addition, smoking doubles the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.

When your immune system attacks synovial membranes, they become inflamed, causing your joints to feel warm, painful and swollen. They may also become stiff, particularly in the morning. Rheumatoid arthritis usually...