What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis, sometimes called RA, impacts approximately 1.3 million Americans. Considering that is nearly 1% of the US population, it’s something everyone should know at least a little about.
Who: In women, who make up three quarters of all RA cases, the age of onset is typically between 30 and 60, whereas men tend to develop RA in their later years. Teens and children can also develop RA, but then it is called juvenile arthritis.
What: Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease and a form of inflammatory arthritis. With RA, the immune system attacks the membrane that lines the body’s joints, and this causes inflammation and pain throughout the body.
Where: RA is generally focused on the joints and surrounding areas. Usually, if one joint is impacted, the same joint on the other side of the body is affected as well. That is, if your right elbow is inflamed, typically the left will be too.
When: Some people have flare-ups of RA from time to time with long, symptom-free periods in between. Others have constant symptoms that worsen over time. Early diagnosis and treatment does appear to help produce longer periods of remission and slow the progression of RA.
Why: No one really knows why people develop RA. Autoimmune diseases are thought to be generally caused by environmental triggers coupled with genetic predispositions, but there are no clear answers here. Scientists are also considering hormonal factors given that women represent more than 70% of RA patients.
People with rheumatoid arthritis are often on multiple drugs, including anti-inflammatory medications, corticosteroids, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, and/or biologic agents. These medications can have serious side effects and can cause drug interactions, which means wearing medical ID jewelry is imperative for people with rheumatoid arthritis. If your medications change often, consider listing, “Multiple Meds,” “See Wallet Card,” and “Rheumatoid Arthritis” on your medical ID plaque along with your emergency contact information. List your current medications on a wallet card (download one here for free!) and keep it on you at all times. Additionally, if your RA makes opening and closing clasps difficult for you, consider a cuff-style medical alert bracelet or a longer necklace that doesn't need to be opened and closed to be taken on or off.