Rheumatoid Arthritis

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

In rheumatoid arthritis (RA), joint inflammation occurs. It is an autoimmune disease: your immune system turns against your own body. Rheumatoid arthritis can start sneaking or suddenly occur. RA is a chronic disorder and it varies: periods in which you have (a lot of) problems with joint inflammation alternate with periods in which you have little or no joint inflammation. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs at all ages, more often in women than in men.

How does rheumatoid arthritis develop?

The precise cause of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is unknown. It is clear, however, that in rheumatoid arthritis, your immune system ‘runs wild’, as a result of which your immune system thinks that good (body-specific) cells are evil invaders. Your immune system wants to expel those intruders. This releases certain substances (inflammatory proteins), causing inflammation in joints, tendons, muscles or organs. Your immune system turns against your own body. Therefore, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder.

Rheumatoid arthritis is not a hereditary disease. RA does sometimes occur with several members of a family.

Environmental factors – Environmental factors influence the development of RA. For example, people who smoke have a greater chance of getting RA than people who do not smoke.

What complaints do you have with rheumatoid arthritis?

With rheumatoid arthritis, you mainly suffer from joint infections in several joints. With a joint infection, you have the following complaints. Your joint-

  1. hurts
  2. is swollen
  3. is stiff
  4. feels warm
  5. you can move less well
  6. Fatigue

Fatigue is a common complaint in autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis. Often various factors cause and maintain fatigue. For example, fatigue can be a direct consequence of the condition, but also a side effect of the medicines you use. Pain can also keep you out of your sleep at night, making you tired during the day.

Other complaints

In addition to complaints from your joints, you may also suffer from other complaints. Examples of this are:

  • inflammation of the tendons or tendon attachments
  • inflammation of bursaries
  • stiff or weak muscles

How is rheumatoid arthritis diagnosed?

Your doctor usually bases the diagnosis on the outcome of the complaints you indicate, the physical examination and the blood test.

During the physical examination, your doctor looks for inflammatory symptoms of your joints and tendons. Your doctor also watches the mobility of your joints.

Blood test

With the blood test, your doctor wants to know if there are inflammatory values in your blood. In addition, your doctor will check whether there are antibodies in your blood, such as the rheumatoid factor and the ACPA or anti-CCP test. These are proteins that have to do with your immune system.

Additional research

In addition, your doctor often does additional research. He has one or more X-rays taken to see if any abnormalities of joints are visible in your arms or legs.

How does rheumatoid arthritis progress?

Rheumatoid arthritis is different for everyone. Usually, periods in which you have many complaints alternate with periods in which the disease spontaneously calms down or comes to a halt due to medication.

Factors that influence

There are factors that influence the course of rheumatoid arthritis:

  1. Stress: due to (long-term) stress you run a greater risk that your joint complaints will get worse.
  2. Hormones: hormones seem to be able to influence the pattern of complaints in rheumatoid arthritis. The symptoms are often more severe during menstruation and during menopause. While pregnant women often suffer less from the disorder. Why this is still unclear. If you get more troubled by your symptoms during a hormone fluctuation, such as the menopause, this does not always mean that the disease activity has increased. If this is the case, your treatment will be adjusted.