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Know Your Risk for RA


A lot of us have ideas about the causes of arthritis, whether it’s from an old football injury or that habit we have of cracking our knuckles (which doesn’t actually cause arthritis, by the way). But there are more than 100 different types of arthritis, making it a complex disease with many possible causes and risk factors.

The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis, is caused by wear on the joints. The causes of another type of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, are much more elusive.

Rheumatoid arthritis, also called RA, is an autoimmune disorder. That means that the body’s immune system — which is designed to protect the body from infection, fighting off bacteria and viruses — instead begins to attack healthy tissue. Most often, the effects of RA are felt in the joints, though RA also can affect other healthy tissue in the body, including the skin, eyes, heart and lungs.

One tell-tale sign that the cause for joint pain is RA is that the pain is symmetrical. That is, it’s not that one knee or hand aches, but that they both do. People with RA often experience pain and swelling in the joints, feeling tired and feeling sore and stiff when getting out of bed in the morning or after sitting for a long time. The symptoms often develop over time, though some experience a quick onset of symptoms.

There are about 1.5 million American adults living today with RA. But who gets it? That’s hard to predict, since the clinical causes of RA are still not known. Based on the occurrence of RA, however, we can determine some risk factors:

  • Gender. RA is at least twice as common — and potentially three times as common — in women as it is in men. However, men who do experience RA tend to develop more severe symptoms than women.
  • Age. Though children and the elderly can develop RA, the disease is much more common in middle-age individuals.
  • Pregnancy. If being female wasn’t enough of a risk factor for RA, it tends to develop more often in women who have never been pregnant and women who have recently given birth.
  • Tobacco use. One of the many diseases for which using tobacco increases your risk is RA. That’s another reason to stop or, better yet, never start.
  • Family history. RA does tend to run in families. Having a parent or grandparent with RA can increase an individual’s risk.

The good news is, with aggressive treatment, we can often push RA into remission, helping people live healthy, active and pain-free lives.

If you’ve been experiencing joint pain, swelling or tenderness, speak with your primary care provider. Be sure to mention if the pain is symmetrical, or if you’ve had any problems with your vision or a rash. Getting a handle on RA early ensures the best outcome.

Primary Care Group of West Georgia is located in Carrollton. For more information or to make an appointment, call 770.834.3351 or visit www.pcgofwga.com.

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