Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that often affects the lining of the smaller joints in the body, such as the hands or feet though other joints can also be involved. The inflamed joints can become painful and swollen, leading to their deformation. RA most commonly occurs in those over the age of 40, and more often in women than men. But it can occur at any age.
In children, rheumatoid arthritis is called juvenile idiopathic arthritis or an older term, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. It most often appears between the ages of 6 months and 16 years. There are seven major types of JIA but pain, swelling and morning stiffness are often symptoms in each type of RA.
“The goals of treatment are to relieve pain and inflammation, slow down or prevent the destruction of joints, and restore use and function of the joints to promote optimal growth, physical activity, and social and emotional development,” writes Kidshealth.org.
According to Norman Ilowite, MD, a pediatric rheumatologist at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx, New York, about 40 percent of children with systemic arthritis will have it resolve in about one to two years, while 35 percent have symptoms for many years.
Ilowite states that roughly half the children with systemic arthritis will continue to have it in adulthood, reported EverydayHealth.com.
There are approximately 1.3 million Americans with RA, according to WebMD.com. Three times more women than men have it, and women also tend to get RA at a younger age than men.
Doctors do not know what causes RA, but it is thought that hormones, particularly estrogen, may be involved in its development in women.
Pregnancy is a time when a woman’s body has high levels of estrogen. Everyday Health reports that 75 percent of pregnant women who also have RA have reported a reduction of the pain and symptoms, as they reach the end of their first trimester. Once pregnancy ended, 9 out of 10 had an increase in symptoms.
Breastfeeding has also been found to reduce the incidence of RA. WebMD reported on a study that showed women who breastfeed for two years or more reduced their risk of RA by 50 percent.
Research regarding how RA is affected by menopause has had mixed results, so the connection between decreasing estrogen levels and RA is unclear.
It may be a combination from both menopause and RA affecting bone density, that increases symptoms of RA. Menopause also reduces muscle mass, so the joints have less structural support, leading to more pain.
Family history is considered to be an additional factor that may be involved in the development of RA.
Mayoclinic.org reports that, while what initiates the condition is unknown, it is possible that a person’s genes influence how their body reacts to environmental factors. Perhaps certain viral or bacterial infections acting as triggers in the person's immune system lead to the development of RA.
Rheumatoid arthritis. Mayoclinic.org. Retrieved August 23, 2015.
The Gender Gap: How RA Differs in Women. WebMD.com. Retrieved August 23, 2015.
Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis. Kids Health from Nemours. Retrieved August 23, 2015.
Juvenile Arthritis: From Early Symptoms to Remission. Everyday Health.com. Retrieved August 23, 2015.
Does Menopause Worsen Rheumatoid Arthritis? Everyday Health.com. Retrieved August 23, 2015.
Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s healthcare and quality of care issues.
Edited by Jody Smith