All about rheumatoid arthritis
When you hear the word arthritis, chances are you picture something that happens when you get older, maybe stiff fingers or knees. But arthritis isn’t just one thing; it actually describes more than 100 different conditions, and it doesn’t just appear with aging.
One of the most common types, and yet one of the more mysterious, is rheumatoid arthritis.
But why is it mysterious, and who gets it?
What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory form of arthritis in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy joints, specifically their lining. This inflammation can cause swelling, pain, and stiffness in the joints. It can affect other areas of the body, too, including the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, and blood vessels.
Why the immune system malfunctions in the first place is unknown and could be due to a complex number of factors, including genetic, hormonal, and environmental causes.
Who gets rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the more common type of arthritis, and around 1% of Canadians have it. Some risk factors include a family history of it, smoking tobacco, and obesity. Women are three times more likely than men to experience rheumatoid arthritis, and while in most cases the onset occurs between the ages of 20 and 50, it can appear at any age. In rare cases, rheumatoid arthritis can even start in childhood, in which case it is usually diagnosed as a form of juvenile idiopathic arthritis.
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What is Juvenile idiopathic arthritis?
Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) describes any form of arthritis that appears in someone under 16. Formerly known as juvenile rheumatic arthritis, the name changed because it’s not simply a version of the adult disease in younger people. The idiopathic in the name actually means the origins are not entirely clear. There are seven subtypes of JIA that share similar symptoms, including joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. Many children will outgrow JIA, but some will not.
In some cases, JIA will develop into adult rheumatoid arthritis.
How do you treat rheumatoid arthritis?
There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but there are medications and treatments that can help people manage their symptoms. Some of these options include:
Often a combination of treatments, including multiple medications, has the greatest impact on patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
What are the other types of arthritis?
At its most basic, arthritis describes a range of conditions that involve the inflammation or swelling of joints. Some of the other, main types of arthritis include:
- Healthy bone and cartilage
- Normal synovial membrane
- Bone ends rub together
- Thinned cartilage
- Cartilage degradation and bone erosion
- Swollen, inflamed synovial membrane
What is The Ottawa Hospital doing to help patients with rheumatoid arthritis?
We have world-class researchers studying rheumatoid arthritis here at The Ottawa Hospital to help improve treatment options and care for patients. In 2021, rheumatologist Dr. Peter Tugwell was listed in the top 1% of the world’s highest-cited researchers. Dr. Tugwell is a global pioneer in health equity and knowledge translation, bringing research discoveries today to patients tomorrow. And as a scientist at The Ottawa Hospital, Dr. Paul Beaulé is drastically improving hip surgeries and patients’ quality of life. Rheumatologist Dr. Sibel Aydin’s research uses imaging technology, like ultrasound and functional MRI, to understand pain mechanisms and exactly which joints, tendons, or ligaments are affected by the disease.