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What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), is a muscle-wasting disease that affects 23.7 million people around the world.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), five in 1,000 Malaysians suffer from this disease.

WHAT IS RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS (RA)?

As with other types of arthritis, RA affects the joints.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a type of autoimmune disease. This means that the body’s immune system which normally protects its health by attacking foreign substances like bacteria and viruses wrongly attacks the joints (sendi-sendi).

This creates inflammation (keradangan) that causes the tissue inside the joints called the synovium to thicken, resulting in swelling and pain in and around the joints.

Comparison between a normal joint (left) and a swollen joint with RA (right)

Synovium would normally produce a fluid that helps the joints move smoothly.

SYMPTOMS OF RA

The Mayo Clinic explains, signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis may include:

  • Tender (sensitif), warm, swollen (bengkak) joints
  • Joint stiffness (rasa kaku) that is usually worse in the mornings and after inactivity
  • Fatigue (keletihan), fever and weight loss

Early rheumatoid arthritis have the tendency to affect a person’s smaller joints first — especially those that connect fingers to hands and toes to feet.

As the disease worsens, symptoms often spread to the wrists, knees, ankles, elbows, hips and shoulders.

In a lot of cases, symptoms occur in the same joints on both sides of one’s body.

About 40 percent of people who have rheumatoid arthritis also experienced signs and symptoms that do not involve their joints.

Rheumatoid arthritis can affect many non-joint structures, such as:

  • Skin
  • Eyes
  • Lungs
  • Heart
  • Kidneys
  • Salivary glands
  • Nerve tissue
  • Bone marrow
  • Blood vessels

Rheumatoid arthritis signs and symptoms may differ in degree of severity (tahap keterukan) and may even come and go.

As time passes, rheumatoid arthritis can cause joints to deform and shift out of place.

PREVENTION AND CURE

Although thousands of research have been done on RA, its cause is still a mystery to the medical community.

Since there is still no cure, patients usually have to rely on painkillers to deal with pain as well as stopping the inflammation, Free Malaysia Today reports.

However, Sime Darby Medical Centre’s consultant rheumatologist Dr Yeap Swan Sim stressed on the importance of identifying the symptoms of RA and undergoing early treatment before the joints were damaged.

“It is key to get early diagnosis and early treatment.

Unlike ten years ago, RA can now be detected at an early stage when the joints are not yet ruined and treatment can be done to protect the joint’s function,” she said.

Early diagnosis of RA is key to preserving the joints’ functions

Although there is no cure for RA, individuals who practice a healthy lifestyle such as a healthy diet, manage their stress well and exercise regularly as well as making use of  natural remedies such as applying hot and cold compress when appropriate,  should be able to improve their quality of life.

LATE DIAGNOSIS CAN COST INDIVIDUALS THEIR JOBS

Many who have RA seek treatment too late, causing them to lose their jobs, Malaysian Society of Rheumatology states.

Former Arthritis Foundation Malaysia president,  Dr Amir Azlan Zain said, for instance, most of the patients seeking treatment weekly were in a bad state with joint damage or deformed fingers and out of work or on long medical leave.

“There are now more patients coming in during early stages of the disease, but many are still too late in getting treatment,” he told The Star.

The blue and purple ribbon is a symbol of awareness towards RA disease

While no statistics are available in Malaysia, two-thirds of rheumatoid arthritis sufferers in the United States were out of job five years from the time their condition was diagnosed, he said.

“Patients may not end up with deformities if they seek medical treatment early and get their arthritis managed properly,” he said.

Dr Amir said joint pain is a common occurrence but people should seek treatment when joint swelling lasted for more than a week.

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