3 Things You May Not Know About Rheumatoid Arthritis

As many as 1.5 million people nationwide live with rheumatoid arthritis, the majority of them women. And while not so long ago, this crippling disease was virtually untreatable, thanks to a better understanding of the disease and to advances in medicine, rheumatoid arthritis is now a manageable disease. In fact, with early treatment, some people may never even experience symptoms. However, myths and misconceptions about rheumatoid arthritis are still common, and we at Allied Integrative Health & Wellness would like to lay some of these to rest. Here are three facts you may not know about rheumatoid arthritis.

1. Rheumatoid arthritis is no respecter of age or sex

Most people associate arthritis with getting older. Arthritis is commonly seen as “an old person’s disease.” And while there’s a grain of truth in this belief—osteoarthritis is most common in older people—rheumatoid arthritis can affect people of any age.

Osteoarthritis, which does primarily affect older people, is caused by physical wear and tear on the joints and may take the better part of a lifetime’s stress and strain to develop. Rheumatoid arthritis, however, is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the body’s own joints. It most commonly develops during middle age—between ages 40 and 60—but it can also affect children (juvenile rheumatoid arthritis), young adults or senior citizens. And while it’s more common among women than men, rheumatoid arthritis occurs in both sexes.

2. Most people who develop rheumatoid arthritis have no family history of the disease

There’s a common belief that rheumatoid arthritis runs in families—that the likelihood of developing the disease is inherited. And while it’s true that this type of arthritis, like many autoimmune diseases, does have a genetic component, the fact is that most people with rheumatoid arthritis have no family history of RA. Likewise, many people with a genetic predisposition to the disease never experience it.

Your genes are not your destiny, and many factors affect whether or not you develop rheumatoid arthritis and at what point in your life it happens if you do. Smoking, for instance, is one of the biggest risk factors for developing RA, possibly due to its inflammatory effects on the body. It’s estimated that smoking may play a role in as many as one-third of the cases of rheumatoid arthritis, and the number is even higher for those who are genetically predisposed to the disease. Air pollution—specifically, pollution from car exhausts—has also been linked to higher rates of RA.

3. Where you live may affect your likelihood of developing rheumatoid arthritis

As odd as it may seem, your geographic location may play a role in your risk for rheumatoid arthritis. A 2010 study found that women living at higher latitudes—that is, farther from the equator—had the highest risk for developing the disease. And living at a high latitude during young adulthood, or from age 15 to 30, appeared to increase risk the most.

Researchers speculate that this may be due to the decreased amount of sunlight at higher latitudes and to the accompanying lower levels of vitamin D. The amount of sunlight you’re exposed to controls the amount of vitamin D your body produces, and those living at high latitudes tend to have lower levels of vitamin D than people living in sunnier parts of the world. And although to date, there’s no definitive link between rheumatoid arthritis and vitamin D deficiency, vitamin D does appear to play a role in some other autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a complex disease with many facets, from the genetic to the environmental, and managing it successfully means more than just treating the symptoms. Your team at Allied Integrative Health & Wellness offers a multi-faceted approach to disease management, from medication to nutritional counseling to physical therapy. We aim to treat the whole person, not just your symptoms—though we’re there for you when you do have a flare-up. If you are one of the many people with rheumatoid arthritis, look no further for relief. Schedule your appointment today and start feeling better.

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