May is National Arthritis Month. Arthritis is a disease that affects more than 50 million Americans. It is the number one cause of disability in the U.S. The month-long observance of National Arthritis Month focuses on improving understanding of arthritis and encouraging funding for treatment research.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease that results in pain, swelling, stiffness, and the loss of function in the joints. The healthy immune system is supposed to protect the body, but with an autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, the body mistakes healthy tissues as foreign viruses and bacteria and attacks them.
People with rheumatoid arthritis produce white blood cells that result in the inflammation of the synovium, the tissue found under the caps of the joints that produces lubricants and nourishment to the cartilage. Inflammation from the erosion of the joints results in damage or loss of motion of associated parts.
The following may cause rheumatoid arthritis:
- Genetic factors – A person might have inherited certain genes that play a role in the development of rheumatoid arthritis. People with these genes are likely to develop arthritis during their lifespan.
- Environmental factors – There are factors in the environment that might contribute to the development of rheumatoid arthritis, such as viruses and bacteria, air pollution, insecticides, and exposure to second-hand smoke. Exposure to occupational hazards, such as silica and mineral oils, may also contribute to the development of rheumatoid arthritis.
- Personal factors – Rheumatoid arthritis may affect both sexes, but it is more common among women than men.
In recent years, there has been a lot of research on rheumatoid arthritis. There are increasing signs that better medications could be available in the near future to mitigate, if not totally eliminate, the disease.