Autoimmune disorders: Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a long-term autoimmune disorder that primarily affects joints. It typically results in warm, swollen, and painful joints. Pain and stiffness often worsen following rest. Most commonly, the wrist and hands are involved, with the same joints typically involved on both sides of the body. The disease may also affect other parts of the body. This may result in a low red blood cell count, inflammation around the lungs, and inflammation around the heart. Fever and low energy may also be present. Often, symptoms come on gradually over weeks to months.
While the cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not clear, it is believed to involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The underlying mechanism involves the body's immune system attacking the joints. This results in inflammation and thickening of the joint capsule. It also affects the underlying bone and cartilage. The diagnosis is made mostly on the basis of a person's signs and symptoms. X-rays and laboratory testing may support a diagnosis or exclude other diseases with similar symptoms. Other diseases that may present similarly include systemic lupus erythematosus, psoriatic arthritis, and fibromyalgia among others.
The goals of treatment are to reduce pain, decrease inflammation, and improve a person's overall functioning. This may be helped by balancing rest and exercise, the use of splints and braces, or the use of assistive devices. Pain medications, steroids, and NSAIDs are frequently used to help with symptoms. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), such as hydroxychloroquine and methotrexate, may be used to try to slow the progression of disease. Biological DMARDs may be used when disease does not respond to other treatments. However, they may have a greater rate of adverse effects.Surgery to repair, replace, or fuse joints may help in certain situations. Most alternative medicine treatments are not supported by evidence.
Signs and symptoms
RA primarily affects joints, but it also affects other organs in more than 15–25% of cases. Associated problems include cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, interstitial lung disease, infection, cancer, feeling tired, depression, mental difficulties, and trouble working.
The rheumatoid nodule, which is sometimes in the skin, is the most common non-joint feature and occurs in 30% of people who have RA. It is a type of inflammatory reaction known to pathologists as a "necrotizing granuloma". The initial pathologic process in nodule formation is unknown but may be essentially the same as the synovitis, since similar structural features occur in both. The nodule has a central area of fibrinoid necrosis that may be fissured and which corresponds to the fibrin-rich necrotic material found in and around an affected synovial space. Surrounding the necrosis is a layer of palisading macrophages and fibroblasts, corresponding to the intimal layer in synovium and a cuff of connective tissue containing clusters of lymphocytes and plasma cells, corresponding to the subintimal zone in synovitis. The typical rheumatoid nodule may be a few millimetres to a few centimetres in diameter and is usually found over bony prominences, such as the elbow, the heel, the knuckles, or other areas that sustain repeated mechanical stress. Nodules are associated with a positive RF (rheumatoid factor) titer, ACPA, and severe erosive arthritis. Rarely, these can occur in internal organs or at diverse sites on the body.
Several forms of vasculitis occur in RA, but are mostly seen with long-standing and untreated disease. The most common presentation is due to involvement of small- and medium-sized vessels. Rheumatoid vasculitis can thus commonly present with skin ulceration and vasculitic nerve infarction known as mononeuritis multiplex.
Other, rather rare, skin associated symptoms include pyoderma gangrenosum, Sweet's syndrome, drug reactions, erythema nodosum, lobe panniculitis, atrophy of finger skin, palmar erythema, and skin fragility (often worsened by corticosteroid use).
Diffuse alopecia areata (Diffuse AA) occurs more commonly in people with rheumatoid arthritis. RA is also seen more often in those with relatives who have AA.
Journal of Autoimmune Disorders