There are many types of arthritis, but the one we most commonly think of is rheumatoid arthritis. White blood cells usually spend their days attacking bacteria and fighting off viruses, but with this type of arthritis, the white blood cells move from the bloodstream (where they belong) into the membranes surrounding your joints.
As a result, there is an inflammation and the release of proteins. Over months or years, the membrane thickens and the released proteins cause damage to neighboring cartilage, ligaments, bones and tendons. Joints can become disfigured, knocked out of alignment or even destroyed.
Signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis may include: joint pain, joint swelling and joints that are tender to the touch. Whether you have red puffy hands, firm bumps of tissue beneath the skin on your arms, or morning stiffness that lasts at least thirty minutes, you may have some level of the disease.
Often, sufferers feel tired, lose weight and sense changes in wrists, hands, ankles and feet at first. In later stages, the elbows, shoulders, knees, hips and the jaw and neck can also be affected. Signs and symptoms of pain may flare up and then alternate with periods of relative remission.
Your doctor will perform a physical exam to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis. He or she will ask you about signs and symptoms, then usually perform a blood test to check for an elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate, which will reveal an inflammatory process in the body.
Other blood tests check for the rheumatoid factor and anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide antibodies, which cause joint damage. Additionally, by using a needle, a joint fluid analysis can pinpoint the disease and help rule out other disorders that mimic the symptoms of arthritis. Once diagnosed, X-rays can help track the progression of the disease in your joints.
Surgery options for people with rheumatoid arthritis include total joint replacement (arthroplasty), tendon repair, or removal of the joint lining (synovectomy). These procedures can help restore joint mobility, correct deformities and reduce pain. Additionally, pain management is key to preventing long term joint damage.
Arthritis sufferers should perform low impact exercises regularly, such as swimming, for example. They should eat healthy diets with lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Devices that can assist you with daily tasks, such as gripping tools, non-skid mats, canes and other products, can reduce stress on the body.
Hot packs, heating pads and hot baths have also been known to reduce arthritis pain. Lastly, keeping a positive attitude and relaxing are some of the best techniques to practice.