"Rheumatoid arthritis is a classic example of a multifactorial disease in which an
assortment of genetic and environmental factors contribute to the disease process"
(Murray 47). It is the most feared disease that attacks young adults and persists into
advanced age. Though the disease can occur at any age, it is most common between
the age of twenty to fourty years. Somewhere between one percent and three percent
of the population is affected world wide. Rheumatoid arthritis is by far the most serious,
painful, and potentially crippling form; it is chronic, is charaterized by flare-ups and
remissions, and affects over six million Americans; five percent are children. Of the
children, the average victim waits for three or four years before seeking treatment,
which results in unnecessary crippling. This disease is often called "the great crippler"
because of the deformities that go along with it. Rheumatoid arthritis is a debilitating
disease of the immune system that can affect one's life greatly. Patients living with the
disease have a constant fear of becoming disabled. Although Rheumatoid arthritis can
not be prevented from crippling, an early diagnosis can minimize most cases.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects women far more often than men. Female patients
outnumber males almost three to one. No one is sure why women are more affected by
the disease, but studies have shown that the female hormones may cause Rheumatoid
arthritis to flare up or possibly go into remission. These periods of remission are very
common in most cases. Symptoms are sometimes known to disappear during
pregnancy. Breast-feeding has also been known to cause the disease to worsen. It is
possible that the disease can either vanish permanently or reappear soon after the
pregnancy. In Rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system turns on the bones and
cartilage as if they were foreign invaders of the body. One important way to distinguish
Rheumatoid arthritis from other forms of arthritis is by the pattern of joints involved.
The disease is progressive, and involves many joints. In this disease, the joints tend to
be involved in a symmetrical pattern. That is, if knuckles on the right hand are
inflamed, it is likely that knuckles on the left hand will be inflamed as well. This
symmetry is not found as often in most other types of arthritis. Also, Rheumatoid
arthritis tends to persist over prolonged periods of time, and the inflamed joints
eventually can become damaged. This destruction process in the joints is what can
cause the severe damage, mentally and physically. The physical damage could often
be the deformity that sometimes occurs. The disease may gradually occur, but it can
be abrupt. This intenseness can cause the victim to be nauseated for long periods of
time and irritate the condition. Patients must be protected from factors that may
precipitate or aggravate the existing state.
There is no known cure for Rheumatoid arthritis when it starts. In some victims,
the first appearance of the disease may come after stressful situations. Sometimes, the
condition is related to continual tension. Depression, anger, and the inability to enjoy
life accompany the disease. Though many believe that Rheumatoid arthritis runs in
families, no evidence proves this. Rheumatoid arthritis is not inherited in the usual
sense, because it is not passed directly from parents to children. The Rheumatoid
factor may be present in people who do not have Rheumatoid arthritis. Other diseases
can also cause the Rheumatoid factor to be produced in the blood. That is why the
diagnosis of Rheumatoid arthritis is based on a combination of several factors and not
just the presence of the Rheumatoid factor in the blood. Most people develop a
susceptibility or tendency to develop the disease can be inherited, but not everyone
who inherits a predisposition to the disease will develop it.
Symptoms of Rheumatoid arthritis can last long and linger, or they may quickly
disappear. They are due primarily to altered immune function. An initiating agent,
such as a virus, stimulates the immune system to overproduce many of the bodies
messenger molecules called cytokines. These cytokines in normal amounts are not
harmful to the body, however, when too many are produced, they stimulate the release
of destructive enzymes which start to break down normal tissues. In Rheumatoid
arthritis , these enzymes target the synovium, cartilage and bones of articular joints.
Pain, swelling, and redness develop throughout some joints during early childhood.
Fatigue, low-grade fever, weakness, joint stiffness, and slight joint pain are the first
signs of Rheumatoid arthritis. The main target of the disease is the synovial
membranes, the tissue that lines the joints. The destruction of the membrane causes
nodules to