According to the Arthritis Foundation, Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is “an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system – which normally protects its health by attacking foreign substances like bacteria and viruses – mistakenly attacks the joints.” This creates inflammation that causes the tissue that lines the inside of joints to thicken, resulting in swelling and pain in and around the joints. If inflammation goes unchecked, it can damage cartilage, the elastic tissue that covers the ends of bones in a joint, as well as the bones themselves. This joint damage and deformity cannot be reversed. The “damaged and deformed joints view” of RA seems to be the common take on what RA is all about.
Many folks believe that the name “rheumatoid arthritis “ is misleading. I agree. The term “rheumatoid disease” is a far more accurate view of the truly invasive nature of this chronic disease. Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disease, affecting many parts of the body.
It is true that RA most commonly affects the joints of the hands, feet, wrists, elbows, knees and ankles. The joint effect is usually symmetrical. That means if one knee or hand if affected, usually the other one is, too. Because RA also can affect body systems, such as the cardiovascular or respiratory systems, it is called a systemic disease. Systemic means “entire body.”
About 1.5 million people in the United States have RA. Nearly three times as many women have the disease as men. In women, RA most commonly begins between ages 30 and 60. In men, it often occurs later in life. Having a family member with RA increases the odds of having RA. Like me, though, the majority of people with RA have no family history of the disease.
Here is a quick list of the many ways RA and the drugs used to treat that RA can affect you:
- Skin nodules and rashes
- Skin thinning and bruising
- Bone thinning
- Inflamed and scarred eyes
- Dry eyes
- Dry mouth
- Mouth sores and oral ulcers
- Inflamed and scarred lungs
- Heart attack and stroke
- Pericarditis (Inflammation of the percardium, which is two thin layers of tissue surrounding the heart.)
- Liver disease and failure
- Impaired kidney function
- Blood clots
- Felty syndrome (A rare disorder involving RA, a swollen spleen, decreased white blood cell count and repeated infections.)
- Pinched or compressed nerves
- Pleurisy or pleural effusions (been there, had that, no fun)