Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disorder that can affect more than just your joints. In some people, the condition also can damage a wide variety of body systems, including the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, and blood vessels. The condition is believed to be an autoimmune disorder where the body’s own defense cells mistakenly start attacking the joint and other organs. As the disease progresses it eventually leads to bone loss and joint deformity.
Even though there are many effective newer medications to treat RA, they fail to work consistently and all have serious side effects. Most people develop life-long physical disability from RA and the quality of life is poor.
What are symptoms of RA?
RA is a systemic disorder and affects almost every organ in the body. The symptoms include:
1. Painful warm joints- usually of the fingers, elbow, and ankle
2. Joint stiffness which is often worse in the morning.
3. Low-grade fever, fatigue, and weight loss
Initially, the disease only affects the small joints of the hands and toes but as the disease progresses; it will also affect the other larger joints. At least 2/5th of patients with RA do not have joint involvement.
Other organs affected include:
4. Salivary glands
8. Blood vessels
The severity of RA may vary with periodic flare-ups and remissions. However, in most people, as the disease progresses the joints will become deformed.
The exact cause of RA is not known but it is believed to be an autoimmune disorder, where the body’s defense cells start to attack the joint lining. What triggers this is not well understood. The resulting inflammatory reaction results in thickening of the joint lining with eventual destruction of the bone and cartilage inside the joint. Gradually the ligaments become weak and the joint loses alignment and become deformed. It is thought that the autoimmune condition is triggered by a bacterial or viral infection.
What are risk factors?
While the exact cause of RA is not known there are some factors that can increase the risk of rheumatoid arthritis. They include:
– Female gender
– Age. While the disorder can occur at any age, it most commonly starts after the 3rd decade of life and is very rare after the fifth decade of life.
– If someone in your family has RA, chances are you may also develop RA
– Cigarette smoking is known to increase the risk for RA. Nicotine also tends to worsen the severity of symptoms.
– Environmental chemicals like asbestos, smog, or silica have all been shown to increase the risk of developing RA.
– People who are obese or overweight are also at a high risk for developing RA
RA is not a benign disorder and with time it increases the risk of developing the following:
1. Osteoporosis can be due to RA itself or the medications used to treat the condition. The weakening of bones can cause pain or increase the risk of fracture.
2. Rheumatoid nodules are firm tissue nodules on the fingers, elbows, and legs.
3. Dry mouth
4. Individuals with RA are more prone to infections because the medications used to treat the disorder also suppress the immune system.
5. RA patients are also more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome
6. RA increases risk of heart & lung disease
7. RA increases the risk of developing lymphoma.
How is the diagnosis made?
RA can be difficult to diagnose in the early stages because the initial signs and symptoms are vague. There is no specific blood or imaging test to make the diagnosis but with time, the symptoms do become obvious.
How is RA treated?
There is no cure for RA. The treatment for RA is with potent medications that only reduce the symptoms. The medications do work initially but also have potent side effects and are prohibitively expensive. The other feature about the medications is that they do not work in everyone and sooner or later stop working in most people. The current medications, however, do improve the quality of life by decreasing the symptoms. The goal of medications is to reduce the pain, inflammation and slow down the joint damage.
Besides medications, patients with RA also benefit from other therapies, which include the following:
1. Copaiba Balsam Essential Oil
Copaiba essential oil is extracted from resin / gum harvested from the Copaifera officinalis trees of South America. Indigenous peoples of Brazil and The Greater Amazon region have used this medicinal oil for many years for its deeply soothing, calming, and pain-relieving properties. The high concentrations of two constituents: alpha-humulene and beta-caryophyllene (a sesquiterpene and a cannabinoid) present in this aromatic oil have shown to be effective at decreasing the natural pain and inflammation response within the body.
Beta-caryophyllene is also present in rosemary, black pepper, and clove essential oils, making these oils efficient at reducing arthritis pain, especially when used in combination with copaiba and also frankincense oil, which also has potent anti-inflammatory properties.
2. Physical Therapy
Today doctors also recommend that people who have RA undergo some type of exercise or rehabilitation therapy. Exercise can help maintain joint flexibility, increase muscle strength, and greatly improve functional use of the hands and legs. Physical therapists can help you perform most daily living activities by just using limited motion. Some patients with RA may benefit from the use of ambulatory devices and others may need assistive devices in the home so that they can use the stairs, bathroom, or cook.
3. Surgery is sometimes used to treat complications of RA but is never the first choice treatment. Surgery may help relieve pain and correct any deformity that you have developed.