Rheumatoid arthritis, formerly also known as polyarthritis or rheumatic arthritis, is one of the most common rheumatic diseases. It is a chronic inflammatory disease which affects the joints in particular. However, it sometimes also has an impact on other organs such as the heart or the kidneys. Autoimmune processes cause chronic inflammation. Excessive reactions from the body’s own immune system are responsible for the episodic inflammation.
Thus, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. It is largely unknown why the immune system attacks its own body in the case of autoimmune diseases. On the other hand, the consequences of such autoimmune processes are known. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, this is chronic, often episodic inflammation which affect the joints and sometimes also organs such as the heart or the kidneys. Rheumatoid arthritis can occur at every age, even in childhood. However, it develops most frequently between the age of 40 and 70.
Every joint can principally be affected. At the beginning, it is often the small joints of the fingers and the toes; later larger joints as well as tendon sheaths and bursae are also affected.
Rheumatoid nodules on the finger joints, pain and morning stiffness of the affected joints are characteristic symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. The chronic inflammation can destroy the joints over time and seriously affect their function. The episodes of rheumatoid arthritis are also accompanied by fever, fatigue and a general feeling of discomfort.
Different examinations and clarifications must be carried out to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis. Besides a physical examination, they also include x-rays and laboratory examinations. Rheumatoid factors, specifically antibodies, which act against the body’s own immunoglobulin will be looked for in the blood.
The treatment of rheumatoid arthritis depends on the severity of the disease and the affected joints and organs. Different classes of medication are available to combat inflammation and alleviate pain. Although it is not possible to cure rheumatoid arthritis this way, the progression of the disease can be slowed down in many cases. Besides drug therapy, physiotherapy and targeted exercises are important components of the treatment to retain the function of the affected joints.