Millions of people all over the world are currently living with a serious autoimmune condition known as rheumatoid arthritis. During this condition, a person’s immune system begins to attack their own body causing their joints to become inflamed.
This is often a chronic condition. Women are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis more frequently than men. Symptoms typically appear in the middle of a person’s life, between the ages of 30 and 60. Men are more likely to develop the condition later in life.
Once the joints become inflamed in rheumatoid arthritis, they can slowly thicken which results in pain, swelling and inflammation. As time progresses and the inflammation continues, this may cause joint deformity, the loss of bone, or the loss of cartilage.
Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
There are many different symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis that will affect each person differently. Symptoms tend to appear in smaller joints first, such as toes or fingers, before spreading to other joints including elbows, hips, shoulders or wrists. Some of the most common symptoms include the following:
- Hard lumps underneath the skin on arms
- A stiff body
- Swollen, warm and sore joints
- Unintentional weight loss
If rheumatoid arthritis becomes severe, it may also begin to affect other parts of the body including the lungs, eyes, blood vessels and skin. Symptoms all over the body may be present for a day, week, or longer amount of time and then disappear. They tend to affect both sides of the body at the same time.
Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Although the specific cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown, experts suspect that both genetic and environmental factors play a role in the development of the condition. This may include genetic markers, obesity, or environmental triggers.
Hormones and Rheumatoid Arthritis
Medical experts from the HFS hormone replacement clinic, have also spent time researching the correlation between hormone levels and rheumatoid arthritis, especially in women. Based on preliminary findings, hormones like progesterone and estrogen seem to protect against the development of rheumatoid arthritis when normal levels of them are maintained in the body.
One research study found that, in women with rheumatoid arthritis, lower numbers of joint symptoms appeared during pregnancy and the post-ovulatory stage in the menstrual cycle. During these times, estrogen and progesterone levels tend to be higher.
Additionally, studies have found that women that have rheumatoid arthritis report an increase of symptoms after delivering a child and during the time in the menstrual cycle when estrogen and progesterone are the lowest.
As women get older, the number of reproductive hormones in their bodies, like estrogen and progesterone, tend to decrease. This is especially true once they have passed through menopause. As a result, many experts believe that this is why women who have gone through menopause experience higher rates of rheumatoid arthritis.
Some doctors will recommend that women going through menopause receive a treatment called hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This increases the levels of estrogen and progesterone in the body. It can decrease the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in women.
However, there has also been evidence that hormone replacement therapy may increase the symptoms of flare-ups. Additionally, side effects of HRT include things like headaches, mood swings, breast tenderness, breast swelling and fluid retention.
Treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Because rheumatoid arthritis can cause permanent and painful damage to the joints and other parts of the body, it’s essential to begin treatment early. Although there is not currently a cure for rheumatoid arthritis, it’s important to maintain symptoms and prevent joint damage.
There are many common treatments for rheumatoid arthritis:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs: helps to reduce inflammation and pain
- Biologic agents: controls the immune system and may help stop inflammation
- Steroids: lowers levels of inflammation and pain
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs: slows the way rheumatoid arthritis progresses
Surgery or Physical Therapy
Physical therapy or surgery may also be options for treating rheumatoid arthritis. During physical therapy, a therapist may work with a person and teach exercises to keep flexible joints in order to minimize the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. This may also be able to provide easier ways to complete everyday activities.
If rheumatoid arthritis becomes so severe to the point that joints have become significantly damaged beyond treatment, surgery may be necessary. A surgeon may replace damaged joints, allowing the person to return to daily activities.
They may also fix deformities or help to reduce pain. During the surgery, a surgeon may replace the entire joint, repair a tendon, or fuse joints and bones together. These surgeries are typically used as a last resort and come with risks for infection, pain or bleeding.