Have you heard of arthritis? What do you think?

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Hello wonderful audience! It feels good to be here again and just as usual, you will be learning about yet another health condition that is fast becoming a pain in the necks of many. Arthritis is a common health issue that has succeeded in confusing the masses as to what it really is thus exposing the public to so many misconceptions.

Actually, Arthritis is not a single disease; rather, it is a common term that refers to joint pains or joint diseases in general. There are over 100 different types of arthritis and they all differ in their causes and methods of treatment. However, today’s discussion will be centered on Rheumatoid Arthritis which happens to be one of the commonest in the world and The Gambia is not an exception. With that being said, let’s get started!
What is rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis commonly abbreviated as RA is an autoimmune disease wherein the body’s immune system which is normally responsible for protecting it against invaders especially infections, ends up attacking the body’s own tissues mistakenly. This initiates an inflammation simply meaning that the tissue that produces synovial fluid to lubricate the joints for easy and smooth movement (synovium) becomes thickened thus exposing the inside and surrounding of the joints to pain and swelling. The inflammation in RA when neglected can damage the cartilage which is the elastic tissue covering the ends of bones in a joint and in other cases, even the bone itself is damaged. These damages restrict the normally smooth movement of joints and joint deformity can gradually set in. Rheumatoid arthritis mostly affects the joints of the wrists, hands, feet, elbows, ankles, and knees and often times than not, when the joint of one part (example, the hand) is affected, the joint of the other (second hand in this case) is also affected. Rheumatoid arthritis can equally affect other organs or systems of the body and this has earned it the name systemic illness or disease.

What are the causes of ra and who is at risk?
The specific cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not yet known or fully understood. Researches have shown that infectious agents such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses could be causes of RA but this cannot be termed as an established fact as it is yet to be proven. It is equally believed that RA may be genetically related but again, not all people with RA associated genes actually develop the disease neither do all RA patients have the RA genes. In the same vain, environmental factors have also been identified as possible role players in the development of this disease. These factors include exposure to air pollution, insecticides, silica minerals and also smoking.
Rheumatoid arthritis can affect any person of any race but certain people have higher chances of developing the disease and are therefore referred to as being “at risk” or “susceptible”. The female gender or women are at a higher risk of suffering from RA and researches have shown that for every man that is affected, three women are affected. In essence, RA affects women trice as much as it affects men. Age is another essential determinant. Generally, RA affects older people but this does not in any way mean that young people are safe. In the case of people at the ages of 16 and below, RA is uncommon but possible and is then referred to as juvenile idiopathic arthritis. In women specifically, RA occurrence is higher between the ages of 30 and 60 unlike the case of men where it mostly occurs at a later stage. Obesity also increases one’s risk of developing RA so it is important to pay attention to a healthy weight gain.

Signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms have an on and off basis and are dependent on the degree to which the tissues are inflamed. Tissue inflammation signals an active ongoing disease whilst lack of tissue inflammation at any point in time signals an inactive disease. Affected individuals tend to alternate between these two states by actually feeling well when the disease is inactive (in remission) and experiencing returned symptoms or flare when the disease becomes active again (relapse). The disease can become inactive abruptly or as a result of treatment and the duration of the inactivity could vary from weeks to years. An activated disease includes the following signs and symptoms:
? Joint pain, redness, and swelling
? Experiences of stiffness in the morning especially at the time of waking up which could last for about 30 minutes or more
? Warmth and tenderness of the joints
? Reduced motion and deformity of joints
? Fatigue, lack of appetite and low degree fever
It is important to note that activated levels of inflammation and pain sometimes introduce affected individuals to frustration, depression, and social withdrawal.
Is RA preventable and curable?
Well, the straight answer is no. Until date, there are neither specific preventive measures nor a cure for rheumatoid arthritis. However, it is well recommended to avoid the conditions that are believed to be role players in the development of RA. With regards to the treatment aspect of RA, the unanimous methodology is to reduce pain and inflammation of the joints, improve the functioning of joints and to prevent joint deformity and destruction as much as possible. This is achieved through an integration of so many factors including medication and input of mutual efforts by both parties (the doctor and the patient) in containing the disease.
Tips to live a healthy and balanced lifestyle
Being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis is not enough reason to overlook one’s health. Maintaining a positive attitude and relentlessly ensuring self-management are vital towards a sustainable and quality life. Therefore, the following recommendations have been found to be really helpful in patients with RA in promoting an overall healthy state.
? Eat Healthy: Rheumatoid arthritis has no specific diets but nevertheless, it is encouraged to consume more of fish, vegetables, fruits, and olive oil in addition to other healthy foods. The aforementioned foods have been identified as reducers of inflammation. Avoid fast or processed foods that induce inflammation.
? Be active: Physical activity is a crucial component of RA treatment. It is therefore very important to have regular planned sessions of physical activity. A safer approach towards this effect would be involving one’s doctor in order to make sure that the joints are not exposed to more damages or unbefitting strains. Exercises should be in accordance with capability. In cases of fatigue, balance activity with relaxation and rest.
? Maintain a healthy circle: Be sure to involve family and genuine friends in ensuring a well needed emotional state. Rheumatoid arthritis can be stressful but resilience and having emotional support from loved ones definitely goes a long way in reversing the level of stress.
CONCLUSION
The famous saying goes that “health is wealth”, so it is beneficial that we keep close eyes on our health status. Rheumatoid arthritis might be incurable but early diagnosis and treatment can avert so many of its complications. Therefore, be the protagonist in the play of maintaining a healthy status and ensuring a well lived life. Once again, we owe it to ourselves.