What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that affects around 1% of the American population. It is a chronic form of arthritis that involves severe inflammation of the joints in the body and can also affect the skin, lungs, nerves, eyes, blood and heart.
What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?
The specific cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown, but some people do seem to inherit rheumatoid arthritis from past generations. There is some evidence that certain infections could trigger the development of rheumatoid arthritis but studies have been inconclusive in their findings.
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms can include:
- Physical stiffness of joints
- Swelling of skin
- Pain caused by inflammation and stiffness
- Redness on the skin covering affected joints
- Loss of appetite
- Rheumatoid nodules developing (bumps under the skin, often located on or near the elbows)
- Shortness of breath
- Hoarse voice
- Inflammation in the lining around the heart
- Eyes affected by rheumatoid arthritis is rare, but in some cases eyes can feel painful
Test and Diagnosis:
There is no exact test that can be completed to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis but a doctor will usually diagnose a patient with rheumatoid arthritis if many of the symptoms as listed above are experienced by their patient. According to The American College of Rheumatology a formal diagnose will usually be given if four or more of these signs of rheumatoid arthritis are present:
- Stiffness experienced in the morning of the joints that lasts for an hour or more
- Swelling or fluid around at least three joints at the same time
- At least one swollen area in the finger joints, hands and/or wrists
- Arthritis affecting the same joint on both sides of the body
- Rheumatoid nodules present
- Abnormal levels of rheumatoid factor in the blood
- X-ray evidence of changes in the wrist and hands
Treatment and Drugs:
Rheumatoid arthritis treatment usually involves a combination of medication, physical therapy and regular exercise to stop or prevent the acceleration of rheumatoid arthritis.
Common drug types prescribed for sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis include:
NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are often prescribed to treat rheumatoid arthritis. These drugs can reduce the pain and inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis but do not prevent the illness from progressing. Over-the-counter NSAIDS include ibuprofen and naproxen sodium.
Prescription NSAIDs are also available for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis but can cause an increased chance of stroke and heart attack.
Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) can help slow down or stop all together the progression of rheumatoid arthritis. Common DMARDs drugs include methotrexate, Avara, Azulfidine, Cytoxan, Imuran, Neoral and Plaquenil.
Steroids can be used to treat the pain caused by stiff joints of rheumatoid arthritis sufferers. These steroids can be administered by an injection or taken as a pill. For moderate rheumatoid sufferers they may receive steroid treatments occasionally to treat their symptoms, but for severe sufferers they may need regular, long-term steroid treatment.
Biologics are generally the most effective treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. However, they are usually only prescribed after all other rheumatoid arthritis treatments have failed. Biologics are genetically engineered proteins that can prevent inflammation (one of the most common and severe symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis) by inhibiting certain components of the immune system. For some patients these biologics can help treat major symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis or even prevent it from progressing further.
These biologics are often referred to as TNF blockers (tumor necrosis factor) and TNF blockers used to treat rheumatoid arthritis include: Enbrel, Humira, Remicade, Cimzia and Simponi.
Surgery for Rheumatoid Arthritis
For sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis with severe symptoms, surgery may be an option. Joint replacement surgery can help reduce pain and increase mobility, and decrease many other common symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
There is currently no known “cure” or prevention for rheumatoid arthritis. However, rheumatoid arthritis can be potentially prevented from progressing further by the above medication and lifestyle adjustment options.
For more information on rheumatoid arthritis see the following: