Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that results in a chronic, systemic inflammatory disorder that may affect many tissues and organs, but principally attacks flexible (synovial) joints. It can be a disabling and painful condition, which can lead to substantial loss of functioning and mobility if not adequately treated.
The process involves an inflammatory response of the capsule around the joints (synovium) secondary to swelling (turgescence) of synovial cells, excess synovial fluid, and the development of fibrous tissue (pannus) in the synovium. The pathology of the disease process often leads to the destruction of articular cartilage and ankylosis (fusion) of the joints. RA can also produce diffuse inflammation in the lungs, the membrane around the heart (pericardium), the membranes of the lung (pleura), and white of the eye (sclera), and also nodular lesions, most common in subcutaneous tissue. Although the cause of RA is unknown, autoimmunity plays a big part, and RA is a systemic autoimmune disease. It is a clinical diagnosis made on the basis of symptoms, physical exam, radiographs (X-rays) and labs.
Treatments are pharmacological and non-pharmacological. Non-pharmacological treatment includes physical therapy, orthoses, occupational therapy and nutritional therapy but these do not stop the progression of joint destruction. Analgesics (painkillers) and anti-inflammatory drugs, including steroids, suppress symptoms, but do not stop the progression of joint destruction either. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) slow or halt the progress of the disease. The newer biologics are DMARDs. The evidence for complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments for RA related pain is weak, with the lack of high quality evidence leading to the conclusions that their use is currently not supported by the evidence. People should inform their health care provider of any CAM treatments and continue taking traditional treatments.
- [* Can Medical Marijuana Help Rheumatoid Arthritis? (June 3, 2011), Health.com
- Medical Marijuana For Rheumatoid Arthritis? (June 8, 2011), The Huffington Post
- Chinese Study: Cannabis Could Help Treat Rheumatoid Arthritis Through CB2 Activation by Drake Dorm (January 27, 2014), Medical Jane
- Rheumatoid arthritis at Wikipedia. Retrieved September 30, 2014.