Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a systemic, complex inflammatory condition. Quite often, there is miscommunication and confusion about how it progresses, its symptoms, and what the best treatment to cope with it. Since it can cause widespread inflammation that affects other parts of the body, some people worry that it may spread to others – is it contagious disease?!
Arthritis itself means a condition that involves pain or/and swelling in the joint. Before making a diagnosis, your doctor (typically rheumatologist) needs to assess the source of the real pain, whether it actually comes from the joint or another area of the body.
Sometimes the pain that you feel in the joint is not actually in the joint. For example, shoulder pain might be triggered by something else surrounding the shoulder.
Once it is known that the source of the pain is in the joint or its surrounding soft tissue, the next step is determining the kind of arthritis.
The word ‘rheumatic’ means that it has a connection with the immune system function. Yap, people with RA have abnormal function with their own body immune system.
Normally, your immune system is the central of your body’s defense system. It is important to protect the body from any harmful intruders such as virus and bacteria.
But in RA, there is something goes awry with this function. The immune system can mistakenly mark healthy cells and tissues as harmful objects. Typically, this abnormality condition primarily attacks soft tissue (thin layer) surrounding the joint called synovium, causing this thin layer to become inflamed.
Then the inflamed synovium increases the risk of other problems in the joint. For instance, it could cause damage to other parts of the joint, too (like tendon, bone, or cartilage).
And since it is related to the immune system function, it can be systemic. In other words, poorly-controlled this disease eventually could cause problems in other parts of the body. Even some have nothing to do with your joint.
For instances, advanced RA can put you at high risk of serious complications such as high blood pressure, heart problems, lung disease, eye diseases, osteoporosis, etc. See more the complications in here!
So in general, each flare of RA could carry the risk of joint damage and other serious complications. Therefore, it is important to make the disease is well controlled.
Although it has been long known that RA is linked to the abnormal function of the body immune system (that’s why we call it as autoimmune disorder, too) – but currently, no one knows the answer of why this abnormality occurs.
RA could pose the risk of disability in the affected joint. As mentioned before, each flare of this disease carries the risk of causing joint damage. Over time, this might end with very poor function of the affected joint, causing disability.
If you see sufferers with advanced RA, the impact of the disease for the overall health can be significant, and you may worry whether the disease can spread to other people.
But RA cannot spread to others and it is not contagious disease. Even if you have a family history of this joint disease, you still have greater chance to not have it (see more in here)!
*However, in rare cases RA could pose the risk of low white blood cell count, too – putting you at high risk of recurrent infections. And if you are easier to have viral or bacterial infections, you can spread these infections to others, but not for your RA (read more this issue in this article).
In addition, there is a chance for a few people with RA to have ‘Felty syndrome’. It is a condition characterized by the existence of three conditions; RA, enlarged spleen, and low white blood cell count.
There is an opinion that as you age, your risk of RA increases. But in fact, this systemic inflammatory joint disorder is not a consequence of aging, though commonly it is found in older adults (those at the ages of 40 to 60 years old).
The most common type of arthritis that may have a connection with aging is osteoarthritis (OA). Unlike RA, OA is not systemic condition. This means it doesn’t cause effects outside of the joints. Instead, it usually involves a local process.
You might also like to read about the differences between OA vs. RA in this section!