Your body goes through a lot during your lifetime, and you might expect your joints to start creaking as you enter your golden years.
On the other hand, it might surprise you to start having trouble with your joints during middle age. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, your joints might give you trouble much sooner than you would anticipate.
In the United States, more than 1.3 million people are living with rheumatoid arthritis. The disease can cause pain and deformity and may even contribute to a shorter life span.
Here’s what you should know about rheumatoid arthritis:
What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Unlike osteoarthritis — which is caused by joints wearing down — rheumatoid arthritis involves joint inflammation and is an autoimmune disease. The body attacks its own joints, causing painful, swollen joints, fever and fatigue. Rheumatoid arthritis can lead to joint damage and deformity. The disease can strike at any age, including during childhood.
Who is at risk?
People with a family history of rheumatoid arthritis have a higher chance of getting the disease. Overweight individuals and smokers also have an increased risk. Rheumatoid arthritis is more common for women and most often strikes between the ages of 40 and 60.
“Rheumatoid arthritis is typically diagnosed in young or middle-aged adults, but it is possible for this disease to show up for the first time after age 65,” says Dan Bushnell, administrator at Gramercy Court Assisted Living. “While you might think you have developed arthritis from wear and tear to your joints, you should talk to your doctor for a proper diagnosis, as rheumatoid arthritis is treated differently than osteoarthritis.”
Can it be prevented?
There is no known way to prevent rheumatoid arthritis, but there are things you can do to lower your risk. The most important changes you can make are to quit smoking and maintain a healthy weight.
How is rheumatoid arthritis treated?
Your doctor can make a definitive diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis using blood and imaging tests. If you have this disease, there are several treatments that can improve your symptoms. Some medications, like ibuprofen and other NSAIDS, can help with inflammation. Prescription medications may be able to prevent permanent damage to your joints. Steroids, therapy or even surgery can improve your symptoms and function.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a serious condition that can affect your quality of life, but it also can be treated. Finding the right treatment for you, eating well, and exercising can help you live a full life.
A version of this article was published by The Daily Herald. It has been republished here with permission.