Much like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease. The main characteristics of the disease include inflammation of the joints. Rheumatoid has been known to cause chronic pain and loss of function for many patients. The disease progresses in three different stages. During the first stage, swelling of the synovial lining of the joints causes stiffness, redness, swelling and pain around the joint. During the second stage, rapid growth of cells causes the synovium to become thicker. During the third stage, enzymes are released that digest the bone and cartilage. This typically causes the joint to lose shape and alignment. It also causes more loss of movement and often-severe pain.
There currently is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. This disease affects more than one million Americans and many others around the world. The cause of the disease is unknown. Researchers have made various theories as to its causes however. Current theories suggest that rheumatoid arthritis is not just one disease, but several all with very common features and symptoms. Treatment for RA typically includes a combination of joint protection, medications, exercise and many techniques for self-management.
Although RA can begin in any joint in the body, the most commonly reported joints first developing the disease are the fingers, hands and the wrists. Symptoms may also include extreme fatigue, flu type symptoms, such as a low fever, loss of appetite, depression and a noticeable decrease in tears and saliva.
Long-term effects of rheumatoid arthritis may affect patients differently. Some may become completely immobilized while others thrive on treatment and go on to live healthy and happy lives. While the cause is still not known, the reasons that some patients respond to treatment while others do not is also in question. Scientists continue to examine many cases of rheumatoid arthritis in hopes of answering these questions.
Researchers are also now taking stem cells that have been harvested from body fat for studies. The goal is to bathe stem cells in growth factors, which will, in turn, prompt these stem cells to grow cartilage. The stem cells will then be seeded in scaffolds for studying. Researchers hope that the results of these studies will show that these stem cells can be instructed to create new cartilage. They feel that if studies are successful, a new drug could one day be developed that would open up new treatment methods for patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Patients could be given these new medicines, which could result in healthier cartilage.
While no research has produced a cure for RA, this study could significantly change the way people with this disease live their lives. Having healthy cartilage would alleviate the pain and discomfort, as well as help to heal the joints before immobility takes them over. Researchers are very optimistic and hope to have answers to their questions within months. In the meantime, other studies are being performed in an effort to teach those with RA better ways of self-management. These studies include specific exercises that are intended to keep cartilage healthier for a longer time.