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Rheumatoid Arthritis

What is it?

Rheumatoid arthritis affects many people, both young and old. There are two basic forms of arthritis; rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis initially attacks the bone where rheumatoid arthritis attacks the soft tissue first. In rheumatoid arthritis the soft tissue surrounding the joint becomes inflamed as well as the lining in the joint. This condition will produce fluid and warmth around the joint affected and will often cause severe pain. Eventually, this form of arthritis will attack bone and cause erosions in the bone. Rheumatoid arthritis usually begins in the feet and hands and then can travel to other parts of the body including the vascular system and lungs.

What causes it?

Women tend to be affected by rheumatoid arthritis three times more often than men. There are many theories regarding the cause of this disease, which include an immune deficiency, virus, or an infection. The immune deficiency theory speculates that the body cannot fight off infection normally and therefore will suffer from diseases that are "infectious" in nature. Rheumatoid arthritis may also be caused by a certain virus, which seems to settle in the small joints of the hands and feet. This disease also seems to demonstrate hereditary and/or family tendencies. In other words, if one member of a family has the disease, other members will have an increased tendency to develop it.

How is it treated?

The management of rheumatoid arthritis can begin with self-help treatment. This form of treatment includes warm soaks and moist heat to reduce the tension on the joints. Anti-inflammatory drugs are also used to help with the aches, pains, and inflammation involved. When rheumatoid arthritis affects the feet, they can become deformed and special extra-depth shoes and shoe inserts can help to reduce the pain during walking. Steroid injections into the painful joints also can make the pain and swelling more tolerable. At times, physical therapy is useful and can help to relax the joints and soft tissue problems. The surgical treatment of the rheumatoid foot is in certain cases, another viable option of treatment. The surgery itself might include the correction of existing foot deformities and/or the removal of the nodular soft tissue growths so common with this disease.

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