Today is Rheumatoid Arthritis Awareness Day, which is a time to spread the word about the condition and how it affects sufferers.
The Arthritis Foundation explains that rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that affects about 1.5 million people in the United States. It is much more common in women than men and usually begins between the ages of 30 and 60 in women and later in life in men.
RA occurs when the body's immune system mistakes the joints as foreign substances and attacks, resulting in inflammation. This inflammation causes the tissue lining the inside of the joints to thicken and swell, causing pain.
If left untreated, RA can cause permanent damage to the cartilage and bones. This damage can result in loose, unstable, painful and immobile joints. The joints most commonly affected by RA are found in the hands, feet, wrists, elbows, knees and ankles. However, RA can also attack body systems like the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
Getting treatment for rheumatoid arthritis
Experts recommend that RA be diagnosed and treated aggressively as early as possible to avoid irreversible damage to the joints.
In treating RA, the main goals are to 1) stop the inflammation, 2) relieve the symptoms, 3) prevent joint and organ damage, 4) improve body functionality and well-being, and 4) reduce long-term complications.
Treatment often includes different drugs that ease symptoms or slow down the disease. Surgery may also be needed when permanent damage limits daily mobility.
When rheumatoid arthritis affects work
Often, sufferers of RA qualify for Social Security Disability benefits when the disease impairs their ability to work. The Social Security Administration (SSA) has established specific criteria that must be met by applicants with RA, which is described in the SSA's listing of impairments under "inflammatory arthritis."