Rheumatoid Arthritis Causes & Risk Factors

Published: April 13, 2010

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What Are the Causes?

The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown. No genes or environmental factors can conclusively explain why the condition develops and why flare-ups occur.

A normal joint is made of muscle, bone, cartilage, tendons, and joint capsules. Patients with rheumatoid arthritis have a chronic condition that attacks these parts of the joint individually or altogether. Over time, bone loss and cartilage loss will occur as a result of the stress placed upon the joint, muscle, bone, cartilage, tendons, and joint capsules. The surrounding muscles will become swollen and could degenerate over time if the condition progresses or continues without treatment.

The condition is autoimmune, which means that the body attacks itself. Normally, the body's immune system recognizes normal cells and fights foreign antibodies from bacteria, infections, and viruses. When people have autoimmune conditions, their immune systems confuse normal cells with invader cells. As a result, the body will attack normal cells in one or many joints in the body. The body will attack its own cells to varying degrees. Some forms of autoimmune conditions are extreme while others are more moderate and less severe.

The most commonly affected joints include the wrists, fingers, knees, feet, and ankles; however, people can experience symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis all areas of the body. One, several, or multiple joints are at risk for rheumatoid arthritis.

Certain conditions can cause rheumatoid arthritis to develop and become worse. These causes include bacterial infections, viruses, injuries, and other genetic condition. Sjögren's syndrome is an autoimmune condition that is frequently diagnosed in conjunction with rheumatoid arthritis.

A viral or bacterial infection or hormonal imbalance might also trigger the condition to develop or worsen. Symptoms may worsen if you experience an injury to an affected part of the body. For example, sports and blunt force can cause people to experience pain, disfigurement, and permanent disability. As a result, it is important for people with rheumatoid arthritis to be aware of their condition and exercise caution when necessary.

Who's at Risk?

In general, the condition affects more women than men. Most people start developing symptoms as older adults in their mid-40s; however, people of all ages, children included, can experience the disease to varying extents. In some cases, children will outgrow the condition by the time that they become adolescents or adults. In any case, many children will not outgrow the disease and instead, they will remain affected through adulthood.

People with a family history of rheumatoid arthritis are a high risk group. It is impossible to predict who will develop rheumatoid arthritis and which parts of the body will become affected. It is also difficult to predict how the condition will progress. The strongest indicators for how the condition will progress involve the patient's medical history. The condition is unique for everyone, so you will be able to assess your risks and prognosis based on existing patterns of the condition..

Rheumatoid arthritis occurs within the tendons and joints on both sides of the body. There have not been any studies that have revealed any trends in a certain part of the body.

Individuals who have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis could develop serious complications if the symptoms are left unmonitored or untreated. These complications include extreme pain and permanent disability. Many people who experience extreme rheumatoid arthritis are unable to work or live a healthy and active life. In any care, a larger number of patients are able to remain healthy and active. Physical therapy and medications are available to slow the progression of the disease and to keep symptoms under control.

It is estimated that severe cases of rheumatoid arthritis can reduce a person's life expectancy by up to 15 years. It is important to understand that these statistics measure the general population. In reality, the condition is unique and affects patients different. Some people improve, and others become worse. It is important that you see a doctor to monitor your condition for an accurate prognosis.

People with rheumatoid arthritis may develop complications including anemia since the bone marrow is unable to replenish the body with new red blood cells. The lungs may become damaged, and the spinal cord may become injured and unstable. The blood vessels may become inflamed, causing problems in the brain, nerves, and heart. Make sure that you keep up to date with your regular check-ups and physical exams.

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