Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease that causes joint and tissue pain. Although it is treatable, currently there is not a cure. It usually affects elderly people, but it has been seen in young and middle-aged individuals as well.

Women have a greater risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis than men.

What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis – No one knows the underlying cause of rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers believe that it is an autoimmune disease that confuses the immune system into fighting healthy tissue as well as bacteria, viruses, and other foreign matter. As the immune system attacks healthy joint and muscle tissue, it can cause intense pain and stiffness. Some people have such intense cases that they can become crippled, losing their ability to walk or use their hands.

Most doctors think that rheumatoid arthritis is a congenital disease passed from parent to child genetically. There may, however, be some environmental factors that contribute to the onset and severity of the disease. Infection and hormones are other possible explanations for why it affects some people but not others.

What are the Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis – Rheumatoid arthritis does not usually start out as joint or organ pain. There are typically some early symptoms that can alert the presence of a developing problem. Recognizing these symptoms as early as possible may help stunt the disease’s progress.

Some of the common early symptoms include

Joint and muscle stiffness that lasts for longer than an hour in the morning
Unexplainable muscle aches
Fatigue
Weakness
Loss of appetite

These symptoms usually lead to joint pain, which can then spread to other tissues. The fingers, wrists, knees, ankles, and feet are the first to develop pain, although some patients report pain in other areas of the body too, such as the neck, hips, elbows, and shoulders.

Less common symptoms include

Burning or itching eyes (may include discharge)
Pleurisy
Swollen glands
Tingling or numbness in the extremities
Fever
Anemia
Skin inflammation
Limited range of motion

In extreme cases, patients may experience hand and foot deformities.

How is Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosed?

There are several tests that can help confirm a doctor’s diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis. The most reliable is the anti-CCP antibody test, which was developed specifically for diagnosing this condition.

Some doctors might want additional information to confirm or deny the anti-CCP’s results. Some of the tests used for this include

Joint x-rays
C-reactive protein
Rheumatoid factor test, which is perhaps the second most accurate test
Synovial fluid analysis
Complete blood count
Erythrocyte sedimentation rate

How do Doctors Treat Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Since rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic condition, patients diagnosed with it will need treatment throughout life, barring the possibility that a cure is discovered in the future. Just because the condition is chronic, however, does not mean that it is not highly treatable. Patients diagnosed during the early stages of the disease can often receive aggressive treatments that delay joint degradation. Some of the most popular treatment options include surgery, biologic agents, drugs, and physical therapy.

Surgical Treatments

Surgical treatments can be used to correct deformities and relieve pain. Surgeries for the knees and hips are usually more successful than those that treat other parts of the body. In some cases, a hip replacement might be necessary. This improves mobility, helps prevent pain, and slows the disease’s progress.

Biologic Agents

Biologic treatments are used to prevent inflammation in the joints, thus reducing pain and helping the joints move more smoothly. White blood cell modulators such as Orencia and Rituxan have been shown to control inflammation in many patients. Tumor necrosis factor inhibitors also help control inflammation. These medications work, however, by blocking the proteins that cause inflammation. Some of the most commonly used drugs include Humira, Enbrel, and Remicade.

Drugs

There are several different types of medications used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, including

Anti-inflammatory medications – These include some prescript drugs, but the most common are ibuprofen and aspirin.
Corticosteroids – These are combined with other medications to prevent inflammation and pain. It can take several weeks before they offer any real benefit.
Cyclooxygenase-2 inhibitors – these drugs prevent inflammation by blocking COX-2. Many doctors view these drugs as problematic. Although they work as well as many other medications, there is a higher rate of heart attack and stroke associated with using them.
Disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) – DMARDs are the preferred treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. Patients taking them will need frequent blood tests to make sure they are not experiencing toxic side effects.

Physical Therapy – Physical therapy uses exercises to improve the patient’s range of motion. Some times joints and splints are also used. Deep heat and cold treatments can also have a positive impact on some cases.

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