Medical Definitions

3 02 2007

Here are some descriptions of medical items mentioned on this site. As I find better ones I’ll post them.

RA=Rheumatoid Arthritis /   CP= Chronic Pancreatitis  (further below)

Rheumatoid Arthritis description: The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown, but it is thought to be due to a combination of genetic, environmental and hormonal factors. With rheumatoid arthritis, something seems to trigger the immune system to attack the joints and sometimes other organs. Some theories suggest that a virus or bacteria may alter the immune system, causing it to attack the joints.

Once the immune system is triggered, immune cells migrate from the blood into the joints and produce substances that cause inflammation. The increased number of cells and inflammatory substances within the joint cause irritation, wearing down cartilage (cushioning material at the end of bones), swelling the joint lining (synovium) and causing the joint lining to produce fluid.

As the cartilage wears down, the space between the bones narrows. If the condition worsens, the bones could rub against each other. As the joint lining expands, it may invade into or erode the bone, resulting in irreversible damage to the bone. All of these factors cause the joint to become very painful, swollen and warm to the touch.

Webmd description: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic (long-term) disease. The symptoms can come and go, and each person with RA is affected differently. Some people have long periods of remission. Their rheumatoid arthritis is inactive, and they have few or no symptoms during this time. Other people might have near-constant symptoms for months at a stretch.

Although rheumatoid arthritis can involve different parts the body, joints are always affected. When the disease acts up, joints become inflamed. Inflammation is the body’s natural response to infection or other threats, but in rheumatoid arthritis inflammation occurs inappropriately and for unknown reasons.

Common Symptoms of Joint Inflammation

  • Stiffness. The joint is harder to use and might have a limited range of motion. Morning stiffness is one of the hallmark symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. While many people without it have stiff joints in the morning, it can take people with rheumatoid arthritis more than an hour (sometimes several hours) before their joints feel loose.
  • Swelling. Fluid enters into the joint and it becomes puffy; this also contributes to stiffness.
  • Pain. Inflammation inside a joint makes it sensitive and tender. Prolonged inflammation causes damage that also contributes to pain.
  • Redness and warmth. The joints may be somewhat warmer and more pink or red than the neighboring skin.

Which joints does RA affect? The hands are most often affected, although literally any joint can be affected by rheumatoid arthritis: knees, wrists, neck, shoulders, elbows, even the jaw. Joints are usually affected in a symmetrical pattern — the same joints on both sides of the body.

Symptoms That Affect the Entire Body: Rheumatoid arthritis also acts throughout the body, and it can have general effects or involve other areas besides the joints. These effects all result from the general process of inflammation:

  • Fatigue
  • Malaise (feeling ill)
  • Loss of appetite, which can lead to weight loss
  • Muscle aches

These feelings have been compared to having the flu, although they are usually less intense.

Rheumatoid arthritis may affect your skin, lungs, and voice. Here’s how:

  • Rheumatoid nodules are bumps under the skin that most often appear on the elbows. Sometimes they are painful. Injection treatments usually help.
  • Lung involvement is common but usually causes no symptoms. If shortness of breath develops, it can be treated with medicines that reduce inflammation in the lungs.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis can even affect a joint in your voice box or larynx (cricoarytenoid joint), causing hoarseness.




There are two types of pancreatitis, chronic and acute. Both are inflammations of the pancreas, a gland that produces digestive enzymes, which your body uses to metabolize carbohydrates and fats, and the hormone insulin.

The symptoms of acute pancreatitis are typically severe and need to be treated. If they aren’t, you may develop pancreatic cysts, abscesses, and leaks of pancreatic fluid into the abdomen, which can lead to other long-term problems or even death. Shock is a possibly fatal complication of acute pancreatitis.

Chronic pancreatitis develops over a number of years, usually after a history of recurrent attacks of acute pancreatitis. Chronic pancreatitis may cause you to lose the ability to secrete the enzymes your body needs to digest foods. The resulting condition, known as pancreatic insufficiency, is a principal characteristic of chronic pancreatitis and is signaled by weight loss — either gradual or sudden — and foul-smelling stools or diarrhea. Chronic pancreatitis can also lead to diabetes mellitus and pancreatic calcification, in which small, hard deposits develop in the pancreas.

Chronic pancreatitis is one of the most challenging pain syndromes to treat. Pancreatitis is a serious inflammatory disorder of the pancreas. The chronic form, clinically distinct from acute pancreatitis, often results from alcoholism (not in the case of Sasha – see About). It involves permanent, progressive destruction of pancreatic tissue. Experts believe that pain is caused by blockage or inflammation in pancreatic ducts. Chronic abdominal pain is usually severe, stabbing, and burning, and it is constant in about 50% of patients.




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