Unlike osteoarthritis, which affects the cartilage around joints, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of joints. Over time, the results are deformed joints and bone erosion, but with rheumatoid arthritis these usually affect only the small joints in the hands and feet, rather than the larger joints like knees and hips.
Rheumatoid arthritis is another autoimmune disorder, in which the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues instead of invaders like bacteria and cancer cells. Rheumatoid arthritis can also affect vital organs like the eyes and lungs, as well as the vascular system of blood vessels. Surprisingly, a study shows that 75 percent of rheumatoid arthritis victims had remissions within five years of diagnosis. There is also a strong corollary between rheumatoid arthritis and smoking.
Rheumatoid arthritis usually begins after 40, and is two to three times more common in women than men. Rheumatoid arthritis is also the most common of the autoimmune diseases (i.e., multiple sclerosis, lupus, type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s, etc.), affecting 860 out of 100,000, or 8.6 percent of the population. This is compared to osteoarthritis, which affects 29.9 million Americans, or 11.1 percent.
The distinguishing marks of rheumatoid arthritis are the curved and occasionally blunted finger and toe joints particularly the joints closest to the nail. Other hallmarks are bumps under the skin, as well as fatigue, fever, and weight loss. Otherwise, rheumatoid arthritis shows the same tender, swollen, heated joints and morning stiffness of osteoarthritis.
The first lines of defense again rheumatoid arthritis are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, and combination NSAID-opoides like oxycodone. When these fail, or when rheumatoid arthritis patients experience a worsening of symptoms, doctors may add corticosteroids like prednisone. Finally, drugs like methotrexate, hydroxychloroquine, and sulfasalazine can slow the progress of rheumatoid arthritis, though all come with significant side effects.
The newest weapons in the arsenal against rheumatoid arthritis are the biologic response modifiers. Sold as Humira, Enbrel, and Rituxan, these drugs actually help prevent the immune system from attacking its host, the human body.