My husband and I are pretty young still, early 30s. But sometimes I feel like we are much older because of our health. I have type 1 diabetes, and he has suffered from joint pain for several years. He always assumed it was from his days in high school football and then ROTC in college, but this year it got a lot worse.
He finally went to a doctor after doing a little online research and discovered it was rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis? Isn’t that for old people? We thought. Nope. It turns out there are two distinct types of arthritis, just like there are two types of diabetes. And just like the type of diabetes I have, the type of arthritis he has is an autoimmune disease.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is a chronic condition in which your immune system attacks the lining of your joints, causing painful swelling and can lead to bones eroding over time. Just like type one diabetes used to be thought of as a children’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis typically is diagnosed after age 40, but can affect anyone. In fact, about 1.5 million adults in the U.S. live with the condition.
So, my husband took forever to see a doctor, despite his symptoms. These typically include tender or swollen joints, stiffness in the morning that lasts well into the day, fatigue and weight loss, or firm bumps under the skin on your arms. It’s a good idea to check with a doctor if you experience these on a continuing basis.
Rheumatoid arthritis may start in the smaller joints, but it can progress to your knees, elbows, hips, shoulders, and over time, can even cause joints to become deformed.
Since it is an autoimmune disease, what leads to it? The exact process is unknown, but if you have certain genes, you might be more susceptible to the condition that is triggered by an environmental factor like a bacterial or viral infection. Risk factors include gender (women are more likely than men), age (typically between 40-60), and family history.
Because the condition is one that causes inflammation, there are related complications of the disease such as swelling in the sac around your heart or in the lungs.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. Many of the treatments and medications aim to reduce joint pain and swelling. NSAIDS like ibuprofen and naproxen sodium and steroids target inflammation while biologic agents and antirheumatic drugs slow the progression of the disease. Doctors may also suggest physical therapy to help you strengthen your joints. Surgery is a last resort for joints with severe damage.