Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a potentially terminal autoimmune disease where the body starts to destroy itself because the immune system mistakenly attacks the joints.1 This disease is characterized by inflammation that causes the lining of the insides of the joints (called the synovium) to thicken, resulting in swelling and pain. The pain in these joints is typically symmetrical, so if a joint in your left knee feels painful, the joint in your right knee will also feel sore.2
This tissue lining is crucial because it creates the synovial fluid that serves as a lubricant and gives nourishment to your joints, holding them in place and helping them move smoothly.3 Without it, joints all over the body may feel intense pain.4 There are three possible ways rheumatoid arthritis can develop in the body:5
- Monocyclic: Patients may only have one episode that can be alleviated at least two to five years after the initial diagnosis, because of consistent treatment and/or early diagnosis.
- Polycrylic: As the disease progresses, patients may notice fluctuations of the symptoms.
- Progressive: The disease continuously increases and there are no indications of healing.
The Risk for Disabilities Significantly Rises if You Have This Disease
Joint damage from rheumatoid arthritis may be irreversible, so early diagnosis and treatment are usually recommended for patients.6 If not addressed, the inflammation could result in cartilage and/or bone damage and joint deformities.7 Joints may also become loose, unstable and painful, and even lose their mobility.8 These erosive changes typically occur fastest during the first year of having the disease.9
The joints aren’t the only body parts affected by rheumatoid arthritis, as the disease can spread to your eyes, lungs, skin10 and blood. Because RA is considered systemic, it can also affect your cardiovascular and respiratory systems.11
One of the organs that RA can negatively affect the most is the heart. The disease can contribute to a 60 percent increase of a heart attack a year after a person is diagnosed with RA.12 This is because the pericardium, or the lining around the heart, is attacked.13 Rheumatoid arthritis can also be fatal if not treated properly.14
How Does Rheumatoid Arthritis Affect Your Lifestyle?
Rheumatoid arthritis can significantly affect your lifestyle, both at home and in the workplace. According to the Arthritis Foundation, disability may occur within seven to 10 years in 20 to 70 percent of people who were already working when they received a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis.15
A 2002 article from the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases also showed that subjects who were manual workers had a high risk for developing work disability within five years.16 RA patients are also more likely to lessen their work hours, switch occupations,17 be relieved from their jobs, or retire earlier18 compared to those without RA.
Rheumatoid arthritis can also be expensive to manage. A 2010 article published in the journal Current Medical Research and Opinion detailed that RA patients spent $8.4 billion on health care. Other adverse effects of this type of arthritis have also cost patients $10.9 billion, reaching a total of $19.3 billion. Furthermore, when you factor in costs related to reduced quality of life (another $10.3 billion) and premature mortality (another $9.6 billion), the total cost amounts to $39.2 billion.19