10 Facts about Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

According to the Mayo Clinic, Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that occurs when one’s body attacks the synovium (the lining of the membranes surrounding one’s joints). Read on to learn 10 interesting facts about this chronic autoimmune condition.

1. Joint pain is a hallmark of the disease

The John Hopkins Arthritis Center states that pain and swelling of the small joints—such as those in the hands and feet—is a hallmark symptom of the disease. However, any joint in the body can be affected by RA. Other than pain and swelling, the inflammation caused by RA can lead to stiffness, deformity, and even loss of function. Joint damage occurs in 80% to 85% of affected patients, with the majority of the damage occurring in the first two years of developing the disease.

2. RA doesn’t just affect the joints

Although joint pain is the most common symptom, RA affects more that just one’s joints. Other manifestations of the disease include eye inflammation, a low white blood cell count, subcutaneous nodules (skin lesions), fatigue and lung disease. What’s more, RA is known to be associated with a higher risk of lymphoma (a type of cancer), anemia (low iron levels), osteoporosis, and depression.

3. It puts patients at risk for death

Left untreated, RA increases one’s risk of mortality. The John Hopkins Arthritis Center states that untreated individuals with RA are twice as likely to die compared to unaffected individuals of the same age. Furthermore, RA can reduce life expectancy by 10 to 15 years.

4. It’s more common than you think

RA is in fact the most common type of autoimmune arthritis, affecting more than 1.3 million Americans. Approximately 75% of all RA patients are women, and 1-3% of the American female population is predicted to develop the disease over the course of their lifetime.

5. People of all ages can be affected

A common misconception of RA is that it’s an ‘old person disease’. Not true. The onset of the disease most commonly occurs in those ages 30 to 50; however, anyone of any age can develop the condition. Furthermore, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, which occurs in those ages 16 and under, currently affects 50,000 children and youth in the U.S. alone.

6. There are other types of arthritis too

RA is mistakenly believed to only affect senior citizens, since it is often confused with osteoarthritis, which occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones wears down over time. Other types of arthritis include psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and gout. To learn more about each of these different types of arthritis, visit the John Hopkins Arthritis Center’s website.

7. There are multiple risk factors

Although the exact cause of RA is unknown, scientists believe that a combination of genetic and environmental factors may put individuals at a greater risk of developing the disease. Beyond being female and middle-aged, other risk factors include: having a family history of the disease, smoking, exposure to substances like asbestos or silica, and obesity.

8. There are a variety of treatment options

Rheumatologists often prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce the inflammation and pain associated with RA. Other prescription medications that treat RA include corticosteroids, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), and biologic response modifiers. Non-pharmaceutical treatment options include physical therapy, chiropractor treatment, and in some cases, surgery. To read more about these treatment options, visit the RA Support Network website.

9. The prognosis of the disease varies

Some patients with RA report only mild symptoms that place few limitations on their everyday lives. However, other patients experience significant pain and impact on their lives, including their ability to work. One of the main factors that predicts the disease prognosis is early detection. The earlier RA is identified, the sooner it can be effectively treated and joint inflammation and damage can be reduced.

10. There is hope

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, check out the American College of Rheumatology’s patient education videos to learn more about the condition. Additional patient and caregiver resources can be found on their website, including fact sheets, case studies and current news.

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10 Facts About Sjögren’s Syndrome

According to the Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation (SSF), Sjögren’s is a systemic autoimmune disease that impacts the entire body, including the eyes, mouth, joints, nerves and major organs. In honor of World Sjögren’s Day, read on to learn 10 facts about this chronic autoimmune condition.

1. It is more common than you think

The SSF estimates that there are as many as 4 million Americans living with the disease, and it’s the second most common autoimmune condition. The exact prevalence of the condition is difficult to determine, however, since the symptoms tend to mimic those of other conditions, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. It can even be confused with menopause, allergies, and drug side effects.

2. It mostly affects women

The SSF states that nine out of 10 Sjögren’s patients are women, and the average age of diagnosis is the late 40s. However, the disease can impact anyone of any age, including men and children as well.

3. It causes extensive dryness

Sjögren’s Syndrome develops as a result of the body’s immune system attacking and destroying the body’s exocrine, or moisture-producing, glands. As a consequence, patients experience widespread dryness throughout their body, but especially impacting their eyes, nose, mouth, skin, vagina and joints.

4. It affects the eyes

The disease is often first detected as a result of eye-related symptoms. This includes dry, gritty eyes that feel like sandpaper when blinking and swollen tear glands. Dry eyes can in turn lead to blurred vision, infections, corneal ulcerations and blepharitis. Several of the eye tests that can be used to help diagnose the condition include a Schirmer test, to measure tear production, and a Rose Bengal and Lissamine Green test, to examine dry spots on the eye’s surface.

5. It affects the mouth, throat and nose

Sjögren’s also affects one’s mouth, throat and nasal cavity; the main symptom being dryness. This, in turn, leads to a whole host of other symptoms, such as mouth sores, dental decay, oral thrush (a yeast infection of the mouth), recurrent sinusitis, nose bleeds, heartburn, reflux esophagitis, and difficulty speaking and swallowing. Some physicians administer a lip gland biopsy as a part of the diagnosis process.

6. It impacts one’s joints too

As the immune system destroys the body’s moisture-producing glands, this results in a decrease in synovial fluid, which helps to keep the joints lubricated. This causes inflammatory joint pain and musculoskeletal pain, and can even lead to the development of rheumatoid arthritis, as shown through a positive Rheumatoid Factor (RF) reading in the blood. In fact, the main physicians who treat Sjögren’s are rheumatologists.

7. Neurological problems are also common

Sjögren’s causes a variety of nervous system symptoms, including nerve pain and peripheral neuropathy (a numbness and tingling in the extremities). Other neurological problems include difficulty concentrating and memory loss, often referred to as “brain fog”.

8. The prognosis of the disease varies

Patients may find that their symptoms plateau, worsen, or, uncommonly, go into remission. A French research study published in Rheumatology also found that early onset primary Sjögren’s Syndrome carried a worse prognosis over the course of the disease (‘early onset’ is defined as a diagnosis before age 35). While some Sjögren’s patients experience mild discomfort, others suffer debilitating symptoms that greatly impair their quality of life.

9. It can increase one’s risk of cancer

A German study found that Sjögren’s Syndrome moderately increases one’s risk of developing Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL). NHL is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which includes the lymph nodes, spleen, and other tissues. The lifetime risk of developing NHL by age 80 is 8% among men and 5.4% among women with Sjögren’s. This is compared to a risk of 1.6% of men and 1.1% of women in the general population.

10. There is hope

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Sjögren’s, check out the SSF’s video series, Conquering Sjögren’s, and their patient-published Self-Help Booklet. The foundation’s website, www.sjogrens.org, also contains a wealth of resources on the disease, including information about treatment options, survival tips, fact sheets, and even template letters for your health insurance company. You can also check out their extensive network of support groups.

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