Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the most common chronic inflammatory arthritis in Singapore. Find out more about its causes, symptoms and treatment.

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What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic condition affecting the body’s joints. It occurs when a person’s immune system mistakenly attacks his/her own body’s tissues. It can also attack other parts of the body like the muscles, lungs, skin, blood vessels, nerves and eyes. It is most commonly seen in people between the ages of 40 and 60, especially in women, and can be a severe and disabling disorder.

Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis

The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not known. Both genetic and environmental factors may play a role. Certain infectious agents in the environment may trigger the immune system into attacking its own tissues or organs of the body such as the joints, lungs or eyes. This results in inflammation (redness, swelling and pain) of the affected organs.

Recently, scientists have reported that tobacco smoking increases the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis often affects the body’s smaller joints, particularly those in the wrists, hands and feet. It causes pain, stiffness and swelling, and is usually worse in the morning. As the disease progresses, other joints like those in the shoulders, elbows, hips, knees and ankles may also be affected, causing difficulty in gripping eating utensils, turning taps, dressing and even writing.


Rheumatoid Arthritis Screening and Diagnosis

Consult your doctor if you suspect you have symptoms of RA so that treatment can be started as early as possible. Untreated RA can lead to serious disability.

Diagnosis of RA is challenging because many other conditions also cause joint pains and swelling. Your doctor has to check the history or pattern of your symptoms and examine your joints, as well as other parts of your body, for inflammation. Based on your doctor’s evaluation, he/she will request for certain blood and X-ray tests. Unfortunately, there is no single test that can diagnose RA.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment

To date, there is no known cure for rheumatoid arthritis. However, there are medications available to reduce the joint inflammation and pain. It is important to seek early treatment for a better prognosis. Managing the inflammation can help prevent any further damage to the joints and reduce the risk of long-term complications.

Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis involves a combination of medications, joint-strengthening exercises, joint protection, and patient education.

RA is a progressive chronic condition and, in time, may worsen. Therefore, other medications may be added later to slow down the progress of the disease. In addition, in the later stages of the disease, surgery may be needed to repair and replace badly damaged joints.

Self-care

Help ease your symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis with these tips:
Keep yourself active by engaging in regular physical activity to prevent your joints from becoming weak and stiff. However, be careful not to do too much and balance the exercise with rest. Do seek advice from your physiotherapist and determine which exercise suits you best.
Maintain a healthy weight to reduce pressure on your joints.
Eat a healthy, balanced diet and make wise food choices like cutting down on saturated fats.
Apply warm water or a heating pad to stiff joints. Ice packs can help reduce inflammation and pain.

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