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Autoimmune Arthritis: Causes, Types, Symptoms, Diagnosis And Treatment

Every year on 20 May, World Autoimmune Arthritis Day is observed globally to raise awareness on autoimmune arthritis and diseases associated with it. In this article, we'll discuss the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of autoimmune arthritis.

Autoimmune arthritis refers to a group of different types of arthritis conditions. Autoimmune arthritis occurs when the body's immune system mistakenly attacks the normal healthy cells, resulting in inflammation in the joints that can cause pain, stiffness and difficulty in movement.

Normally, the immune system can find out the difference between the foreign invaders such as bacteria, virus, fungi and parasites and your own cells. But what happens in autoimmune arthritis is the body sends messages to the cells including the white blood cells instructing them to attack the body's own cells and tissues.

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Types Of Autoimmune Arthritis

There are more than 100 types of arthritis and each has different symptoms. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and psoriatic arthritis are the most common types of autoimmune arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis - This is the most common type of arthritis that affects more women than men [1]. It affects the lining of the joints causing pain and swelling, resulting in bone erosion and joint deformity. Autoimmune arthritis causes pain and swelling in the hands, feet, wrists, elbows, ankles, hips and shoulders.

Psoriatic arthritis - It is a chronic, inflammatory arthritis that can occur in people with a skin condition called psoriasis, which accounts to about 20 to 30 per cent of such cases [2]. It usually can affect any part of your body, including fingertips and spine. Joint pain, swelling and stiffness are the symptoms of psoriatic arthritis.

Another common type of autoimmune arthritis is juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), also known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis occurs due to inflammation in the synovium (the tissue that lines the inside of joints). It mostly affects children aged 16 or younger [3].

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Symptoms Of Autoimmune Arthritis

• Deformed joints

• Difficulty in movement

• Hard bumps of tissues under the skin on your arms

• Dry mouth

• Difficulty in sleeping

• Fatigue

• Fever

• Anaemia

• Weight loss

• Eye inflammation

• Stiffness and swelling in the joints

• Joint pain

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Risk Factors Of Autoimmune Arthritis

The risk factors of autoimmune arthritis depend on the type of arthritis. However, these are the common risk factors:

• Age

• Gender

• Family history

• Smoking

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Complications Of Autoimmune Arthritis

The complications may vary depending on the type of autoimmune arthritis. For example, rheumatoid arthritis increases the risk of coronary heart disease and cognitive impairment [4], [5]. Also, the risk of diabetes is higher among patients with rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis [6].

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Diagnosis Of Autoimmune Arthritis

To diagnose autoimmune arthritis, rheumatologists will study the immune system, ask about your symptoms and any other medical conditions. After which, the doctor will recommend some diagnostic tests like X-rays, CT scan or MRI scan, blood tests and certain tests like anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide antibody test (anti-CCP) for diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis [7].

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Treatment Of Autoimmune Arthritis

Depending on the patient's symptoms, the type of arthritis and overall health, the doctor will recommend a treatment procedure for autoimmune arthritis.

Medications

Certain medications can help treat autoimmune arthritis such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), corticosteroids, immunosuppressant drugs and biological agents [8].

Physical therapy

Flexibility and strengthening exercises can help improve your range of motion and build muscle strength. This will help increase your strength and flexibility and will reduce your pain at the same time. To protect your joints and reduce pain, your occupational therapist can recommend you assistive devices such as canes and crutches [9].

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Lifestyle Changes For Patients With Autoimmune Arthritis

• Exercise regularly to improve the range of motion in joints.

• Quit smoking as it may worsen the symptoms of autoimmune arthritis.

• Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.

• Do not take too much of stress.

• Maintain a healthy weight.

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