Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a condition that causes chronic inflammation of the small joints in your hands and feet. Primarily affecting the synovial tissues surrounding the joints, the condition causes painful swelling and inflammation that can result in bone erosion and joint deformity. RA differs from other forms of arthritis in that the inflammation is not caused by joint wear and tear; rather, it is the result of a malfunction in the immune system.
As per reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 50 million adults in the United States have some form of arthritic disease and 1.5 million adults have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Women are more affected than men. In women, the condition generally begins between ages 30 and 60. In men, RA usually occurs later in life.
Typically, early RA tends to affect the smaller joints, specifically the joints that attach your fingers to your hands and toes to your feet. But, as the disease progresses, symptoms may spread to the wrists, knees, elbows, ankles, hips and shoulders. In most cases, symptoms occur in the same joints on both sides of the body. The type and nature of symptoms may vary from one person to another. Typical symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:
- Tender, warm, swollen joints
- Chronic pain and joint swelling
- Numbness and tingling
- Morning stiffness that may last for hours
- Decrease in range of motion
- Low grade fever or other signs of infection
- Weight loss
- Inability to move hand or foot
- Firm bumps of tissue under the skin on the arms (rheumatoid nodules)
- Bone fractures
Diagnosis and Treatment
It is often difficult to diagnose RA in its early stages because the initial signs and symptoms of the condition are similar to those of many other diseases. As part of the physical exam, the physician will check the joints for swelling and also check the patient’s reflexes and muscle strength. Blood tests that show possible indications of the condition may be ordered. X-rays, ultrasound scans and MRI scans are other methods used to diagnose RA. Early diagnosis, treatment and support can reduce the risk of joint damage and limit the negative effects of the condition.
Leading multispecialty healthcare centers offer effective treatment for this joint disease. Based on their condition, patients would be provided with a customized treatment plan would include medication, exercise, pain management, and other supportive modalities:
- Physical therapy – Physical therapy exercises help reduce pain, improve range of motion and increase strength of joints. These include range-of-motion exercises, strengthening exercises, hydrotherapy (aqua therapy) and aerobic exercises that help to maintain normal joint function by increasing mobility and flexibility.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – Over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) help relieve pain and prevent further damage of joints.
- Steroids – Corticosteroid medications such as prednisone reduce inflammation and pain and slow joint damage.
- Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) – Low-voltage electric stimulation interacts with the sensory nervous system to reduce muscle stiffness and pain.
However, when bone damage from arthritis becomes severe and the pain cannot be controlled with medications or other therapies, surgery is recommended. To avoid this, get treatment at a reliable healthcare center as early as possible – this could be the key to remission.