In Europe, there are about 2.3 million RA sufferers, with some 400,000 of those in Italy: These are the statistics pertaining to Patients afflicted with Rheumatoid Arthritis, a crippling disease that can irrevocably ravage a person’s life. RA can weigh heavily on the working lives of Patients, leaving them housebound and unable to handle even everyday tasks and objects, permanently at a loss to perform even the simplest actions.
One of the most common misconceptions is that RA is related to advanced age or to menopause – in other words, only to the world of the elderly. Yet, nothing could be farther from the truth: Rheumatoid Arthritis affects the elderly, yes, but also adults in the 30-50 age group, with women stricken up to three times more often than men – and Juvenile RA, too, devastates the lives of a certain percentage of children.
What are the symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease (the immune system attacks and destroys the lining of the body’s joints), the cause of which is not known. It manifests in a symmetrical way (for example, both hands or both knees), usually affecting the joints, though it can also attack the spine, albeit rarely. In addition, RA can damage the epidermal tissues, the lungs, the eyes, and the blood vessels. Patients feel tired, and sometimes also feverish. Pain generally becomes acute at night, with swelling of the afflicted areas; and upon waking the joints are very stiff, perhaps requiring an hour before movement is even possible. RA is in some sense a hidden disease that devastates the daily lives of its victims, who are often otherwise in the very prime of their lives.
What happens in the body?
The chronic inflammation of Rheumatoid Arthritis is caused and fomented by the breakdown of the physiological balance between two important proteins: the pro-inflammatory (which exacerbate inflammation) and the anti-inflammatory (which inhibit it). These proteins, called cytokines, are produced by certain types of white blood cells (lymphocytes and macrophages), and they are essential under normal conditions for maintaining the integrity of the immune system’s response to various environmental attacks (such as infections). The fact is that inflammation is one of the body’s most important defence mechanisms. However, once the initial inflammation has eliminated the injurious agent, it must be limited in time so as not to damage the organism itself. Timing is essential, as well as prevention.
Overall Prevention Efforts
Prevention is the first step in minimising the suffering brought on by Rheumatoid Arthritis. It is in the first few months of disease onset that substantial damage becomes evident, and in many cases irreversible. To raise awareness, 12 October has been established as World Rheumatoid Arthritis Day (www.worldarthritisday.org). In Italy, a great deal is being done to increase public understanding of the terrible reality RA Patients and their loved ones have to face. On the one hand, the Italian Rheumatology Society is pursuing scientific and medical objectives; and on the other, the Anmar Association keeps institutions updated by providing data and information validated by scientific research.
In Europe, the Rheumatology League has been created, bringing together more than 30 national leagues and 43 scientific organisations devoted to the continuous exchange of relevant knowledge. In dealing effectively with RA, nothing can be left to chance.
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