Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects small joints, mainly the joints of the hands and the feet, but can affect virtually any and all joints in the body. Doctors do not actually know what the cause of rheumatoid arthritis is, but they do understand that it’s an autoimmune disease, meaning that the body mistakingly attacks itself. The immune system for some reason becomes overactive and chooses as its target what we call the synovial membrane, which is the lining of joints. When the immune system attacks the joints, they become inflamed, and after a while, swelling begins to occur. If the swelling and inflammation go on for long enough, it will destroy the joints. This causes the synovial membrane to bleed into and invade the joints, causing damage to the cartilage, the bone, and the tendon structures around the joints so that they become deformed. Over a period of time, they will become unusable.
The majority of patients who develop rheumatoid arthritis are women. Statistics have shown that three out of four patients who have rheumatoid arthritis are women. Researchers do not understand exactly why this is the case, but it most likely has something to do with hormones. Smoking is another known cause of triggering rheumatoid arthritis within the body. People who smoke double the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. We also know that there are a number of genes that predispose people to get rheumatoid arthritis. And while there’s not one specific gene that we could say causes rheumatoid arthritis, we know that there are several genes that can either enable the immune system to be more active or fails to shut off an already active immune system which results in rheumatoid arthritis symptoms of joint pain and swelling.
The risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis is somewhat higher if you have a family member who has rheumatoid arthritis or some other autoimmune disease such as Lupus Erythematosus. The risk is about double if you have a family member with rheumatoid arthritis, but overall a person’s risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis is about 1 in 200.
Mayo clinic has a state-of-the-art facility which has a very long record of research and treatment into rheumatoid arthritis. Steroids were actually discovered and used for the first time at Mayo clinic for the management of rheumatoid arthritis back in the 1940s. Since then, Mayo has had made many advances in the understanding of how rheumatoid arthritis affects patients. They have discovered why rheumatoid arthritis causes heart disease in patients with rheumatoid arthritis as opposed to people who don’t have rheumatoid arthritis, and how patients can better manage those problems.
Mayo also has state-of-the-art facilities for clinical trials and for the treatment of this disease. They work very closely with their colleagues in orthopedics to manage the problems of damaged joints when patients need a joint replacement. Some of the new therapies that Mayo is developing are oriented around regeneration of the immune system, and regeneration of damaged bone and cartilage in the joint through stem cell research. For more information on rheumatoid arthritis, visit Mayo Clinic’s website at mayoclinic.org