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Understanding Rheumatoid Arthritis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

By Dr. Kiran Seth in Rheumatology

Apr 11, 2024

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disorder that primarily affects the joints but can also impact other organs in the body. It is characterized by inflammation of the synovium, the lining of the joints, leading to pain, swelling, stiffness, and eventually joint damage. In this article, we will delve into the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for rheumatoid arthritis.
The exact cause of RA is still unknown, but researchers believe that a combination of genetic, environmental, and hormonal factors may contribute to its development. Certain genes, such as the HLA-DRB1 gene, have been associated with an increased risk of RA. Environmental triggers, such as smoking, infection, and exposure to pollutants, may also play a role in triggering the autoimmune response that leads to RA. Hormonal factors, particularly in women, may influence the onset and severity of RA, as the condition often improves during pregnancy and worsens after childbirth.
The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can vary from person to person, but common signs include joint pain, swelling, and stiffness, particularly in the small joints of the hands and feet. Morning stiffness that lasts for more than an hour is a hallmark feature of RA. Other symptoms may include fatigue, low-grade fever, loss of appetite, and a general sense of malaise. Over time, RA can lead to joint deformities and functional limitations if left untreated.
Diagnosing RA involves a combination of medical history, physical examination, laboratory tests, and imaging studies. Blood tests, such as rheumatoid factor (RF) and anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP) antibodies, are often used to support the diagnosis. Imaging techniques like X-rays, ultrasound, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can help assess joint damage and monitor disease progression.
Treatment Options:
While there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, several treatment options are available to manage the symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease. The treatment approach is typically tailored to the individual’s needs and may include the following:
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) help reduce pain and inflammation.
Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are used to suppress the immune system and slow down the disease progression.
Biologic response modifiers, such as tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors, target specific molecules involved in the inflammation process.
Physical Therapy:
Physical therapy and regular exercise can help improve joint mobility, strengthen muscles, and reduce pain.
Lifestyle Modifications:
Maintaining a healthy weight is important to minimize stress on the joints.
Applying heat or cold packs, using assistive devices, and practicing relaxation techniques can provide symptom relief.
In severe cases of joint damage, surgical interventions such as joint replacement or joint fusion may be considered to restore function and alleviate pain.

Dr. Kiran Seth
Consultant – Rheumatology
Metro Hospital, Noida