There are over one hundred types of arthritis. Among the most painful is rheumatoid arthritis. This is the most common autoimmune arthritis. Pain and swelling in the wrists and small joints of the hands and feet are symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. RA is the result of the body’s immune system working improperly.
It is important to get a correct diagnosis for RA because it has symptoms similar to other diseases. With an accurate diagnosis, RA can be treated effectively to lower pain levels and stop the swelling in the joints. Damage to joints can also be prevented when the disease is accurately diagnosed and treated in the early stages. Early diagnosis and treatment increase the likelihood of better results in the long run.
Symptoms of RA
The most notable symptoms of RA are joint pain, stiffness in the joints and swelling. Joint movement decreases over time. The small joints of the hands and feet are most affected. However, RA has also been known to attack other organs in some individuals. These can include the eyes, skin or lungs.
Morning stiffness is common with RA. Severe stiffness can last one or two hours, and in some instances, it may last the entire day. Moving the joints can improve the stiffness that is a hallmark of the disease. Other forms of arthritis do not necessarily present with morning stiffness lasting for a prolonged period of time.
Patients with RA may also experience low fevers, loss of appetite and lower energy levels. Rheumatoid nodules may grow beneath the skin. These are firm lumps that can be found in the elbow and hands. A related condition called Sjogren’s syndrome may accompany RA, causing dry mouth and eyes.
Causes of RA
More is known about what happens with RA than the actual cause of the disease. It is an autoimmune disease. A healthy immune system will attack foreign substances in the body, such as viruses or bacteria. It does this by creating inflammation. When there is a problem with the autoimmune system, healthy tissues are attacked and inflammation is created. In the case of RA, the inflammation occurs in the joints, causing pain and swelling that remains. If the inflammation is not reduced, the joints can be irreversibly damaged. Some individuals may be predisposed to RA since it tends to run in families.
Blood tests, physical examination and imaging tests are used in diagnosing RA. Several tests are needed for an accurate diagnosis. The blood tests will reveal antibodies that are seen in RA patients. A false positive occurs when the antibodies are found in people who do not have RA. Blood tests can also show high levels of inflammation. RA can be confused with some viral infections. When the symptoms are very mild, RA can be difficult to diagnose.
The blood tests of an RA patient will often show a low red blood cell count. A protein called rheumatoid factor can be found in patients who have had RA for a while. It is less common in those who show early signs of the disease.
X-rays are also used to help diagnose RA, but if the disease is in the early stages, joints may look normal. In this case, x-rays can be helpful in determining a base line for the progression of the disease. The severity of the disease can be determined with MRI and ultrasound scanning.
In most instances, RA patients are diagnosed three or more months after the presentation of symptoms. Some patients may be diagnosed sooner.
Unfortunately, at this time, there is no cure for RA. Improvement with pain and swelling and alleviation of joint stiffness is the main goal of RA treatment. Treatment plans may need to change over time, and there is no one treatment that can be used for all RA patients.
Treatment often begins with DMARDs, or disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs. The purpose of these drugs is to relieve pain, swelling and inflammation and slow the progression of damage to the joints.
In addition to medications, effective treatment involves physical and occupational therapy. Some patients are helped with chiropractic care, nutrition counseling and acupuncture.
Early diagnosis and treatment yield optimal results. Many patients are able to maintain their daily activities with proper treatment. Learning how to cope with the disease is also an important component of successful treatment.
Dr. Rolland Nemirovsky has expertise in treating RA patients and alleviating their pain. If you or a loved one suffer from this chronic disease, we encourage you to contact Manhattan Sports Therapy for a consultation. Discover how we can help you eliminate pain and resume an active lifestyle.