What Is Knee Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease that affects joints throughout the body, including the knees. Commonly known as RA, it can cause pain and swelling in the joints and over time can erode the surrounding cartilage and bone.
More common in women than in men, RA is estimated to affect more than 1.5 million adults in the U.S.1
RA is an autoimmune disease. In fact, it’s the most common type of autoimmune disease, or disorder in the immune system that causes the body to attack itself. In this case, antibodies are produced that attach to the joint lining, or synovial membrane. The membrane becomes inflamed and swollen, and can lead to more severe symptoms over time if left untreated. Because it’s what is known as a polyarthritis, RA can affect five or more joints at once. The condition can also affect other areas of the body that are not joints, including organs like the eyes, heart and lungs.
Knee Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms
Common symptoms of RA can include swelling, warmth, stiffness, pain and loss of function in the knees and/or other joints, such as the wrists, fingers, elbows or ankles. The symptoms typically occur on both sides of the body at once.
The condition seems to take different paths, with varying degrees of severity. Monocyclic RA is a single episode and doesn’t come back (this may be the result of treatment). Patients with polycyclic RA report that the disease comes and goes. Progressive RA is consistently severe and the symptoms increase with time.
Causes of Knee Rheumatoid Arthritis
While there’s no known cause, there are risk factors that healthcare professionals believe are associated with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Women are said to be about three times more likely to suffer from RA than men.2 It is most prevalent among people in their 60s, but RA can start in middle age, as well as affect children and young people.
Smoking is believed to be a significant risk factor, and there is evidence that a history of smoking will slightly to moderately increase the risk of developing RA. Studies have also found potential risk factors in the use of contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy, and those due to giving birth, breastfeeding and irregular menstrual history or polycystic ovarian syndrome. It may also come down to genes or environmental factors.
Treatment for Knee Rheumatoid Arthritis
There is no cure for RA, but treatments have been shown to stop or reduce the pain, swelling and damage the condition can cause. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and cortisone shots are commonly used to reduce pain and swelling. Ointments can also help to soothe joint pain. Anti-rheumatic drugs may be used to attempt to modify the condition. Recently, new treatments have been found in biologics, or proteins engineered from human genes. Biologics are said to help to slow the progression of RA in cases where patients are not responding to anti-rheumatic drugs. Patients with significant joint damage may require orthopedic surgery to relieve pain and restore function. After being diagnosed with RA, patients should always follow the recommended care of their rheumatologist or inflammatory arthritis specialist.
Before surgery is required, however, RA sufferers are encouraged to treat not only the symptoms but the causes of the condition. Lifestyle choices can make a big difference on body and mind. Regular, appropriate exercise, can help you retain range of motion and increase strength and mobility. Eating a diet of nutritious foods and maintaining a healthy weight helps to reduce or prevent excess strain and pressure on the joints. Special elimination diets have not been proven to reduce symptoms, however some studies recommend fish oil as a dietary anti-inflammatory.3 Simply educating oneself on the condition is a positive first step.
A personal strategy incorporating good habits and lifestyle changes can make all the difference in how you feel. Even if surgery is required a personal strategy for Education, Fitness, Nutrition and Support can help you to achieve the best outcome and recovery.
Knee Rheumatoid Arthritis Sources:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Rheumatoid Arthritis.” (March 20, 2015)
- National Institutes of Health. “What People With Rheumatoid Arthritis Need to Know About Osteoporosis.” Jan. 2012. (March 20, 2015)
- The New York Times. “Rheumatoid Arthritis: Lifestyle Changes.” March 18, 2013. (March 20, 2015)