By Olabisi Akinbode
Prof. Temitope Alonge, a Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, says women are three times more prone to Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) than men.
Alonge, who is also the Chief Medical Director of UCH, made the disclosure in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Ibadan on Wednesday.
He said that symptoms of the ailment in women tended to appear between ages 30 and 60 while they develop in men later.
Alonge said while there may also be a genetic basis for the disease, cigarette smoking and periodontics were major risk factors.
According to Alonge, arthritis refers to more than 100 conditions that affect the musculus-skeletal system.
“The joints are the parts of the body where bones meet each other. When arthritis is present, the joints may become inflamed, stiff, red and painful.
“Damage from RA may occur in tissues surrounding the joints including the tendons, ligaments and muscles.
“RA is one type of arthritis classified as ‘systemic,’ meaning it can permeate the entire body.
“In some patients, symptoms may extend to the skin, eyes and internal organs.
“The exact cause of RA remains unknown, but several risk factors have been identified.
“Women are diagnosed with RA more often, and it is suspected that estrogen may play a role.
“Several studies have shown there is a genetic component to developing RA. Cigarette smoking appears to increase the risk of developing the disease.
“Occupational exposure to certain dusts such as silica, wood or asbestos can also lead to a higher risk of developing the illness.
“It is thought that there may be a viral or bacterial infectious cause of RA but that is still being studied.
“When a person with RA has symptoms including joint inflammation and pain, this is called a flare. Flares may last from weeks to months.
“This can alternate with periods of remission, when symptoms are minimal to nonexistent.
“Periods of remission can last weeks, months, or even years.
“After a period of remission, if the symptoms return, this is called a relapse.
“It is common for RA patients to have periods of flares, remissions and relapses, and the course of the illness varies with each patient.
“In addition to the hallmark symptoms of swollen, painful and stiff joints and muscles, patients with RA may also experience other symptoms.
“With RA, hands are almost always affected. However, RA can affect any joint in the body, including wrists, elbows, knees, feet, hips and even the jaw.
“Usually, joints are affected symmetrically, meaning the same joints on both sides of the body are affected.
“RA can be very painful, and chronic inflammation can lead to debilitating loss of cartilage, bone weakness, and joint deformity,” he said.
Alonge said that there was no singular test to diagnose RA, adding that the doctor would first perform a physical examination and take a history of symptoms.
“The joints will be examined to determine if there is inflammation and tenderness. The heart, lungs, eyes, mouth and extremities will be evaluated.
“The skin may be examined to look for rheumatoid nodules. The doctor may order blood tests or X-rays to help diagnose the condition.
“Many other diseases such as gout, fibromyalgia and lupus may resemble rheumatoid arthritis, so the doctor will rule out these conditions before making a diagnosis of RA.
“Another test used to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis is X-ray.
“Early in the disease, X-rays can be helpful as a baseline test and they can be useful in later stages to monitor how the disease progresses over time.
“Other imaging tests used include ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI),” he said.
The surgeon further explained that RA could be treated once the patients had been diagnosed to have RA.
“If you are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, the sooner the treatment begins, the better your outcome is likely to be.
“There are many different medications used to help alleviate symptoms of RA with the goal of bringing a patient into remission,” he said.