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Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects several different joints in the body, particularly in the hands and feet. RA can be a painful condition, especially during a flare up. It can also be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are similar to other autoimmune and inflammatory diseases such as lupus, psoriatic arthritis, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and more. Early detection and intervention can make a big difference in successful treatment, so it’s important to know and recognize the warning signs before Rheumatoid Arthritis becomes a recurrent problem.
Typical Joint Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
If your joints are affected by RA, you may notice any of the following symptoms:
- Pain, tenderness, stiffness, or swelling of the joints that persists for 6 weeks or more
- You feel stiff when you wake up in the morning and it doesn’t subside after 30 minutes
- Multiple joints are affected
- Small joints in the wrists, hands, and feet are the most affected
- You experience joint discomfort in the same joint on both sides of your body
- Loss of appetite
Although these symptoms are not definite indicators of RA, you should still consult with your doctor if you experience any of them.
RA Also Affects Other Parts of the Body
Chronic high levels of inflammation in the body can affect other organs and bodily systems, such as:
- Skin. Nodules, or small bumps, can form over joints under the skin.
- Eyes. Dryness, redness, sensitivity to light, impaired vision, and pain.
- Mouth. Dry mouth and gum irritation.
- Lungs. Inflammation and scarring, shortness of breath.
- Anemia. Lowered red blood cell count.
- Blood Vessels. Inflammation causing damage to nerves, skin, and organs.
These symptoms result from long term inflammation in the body and may not be present in the early stages of RA.
Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Once a diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis has been made, the next step is forming a course of treatment. Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis. Living with RA might mean that some days are mild and others are more painful. A period of more intense pain and inflammation is called a “flare,” and it can last for days, weeks, or even months. Diagnosing RA while it is still in the early phases means a greater chance forof remission of symptoms. Treatment of RA can fall into two categories: slowing the progression of RA, or treating the pain resulting from the condition. Depending on your unique situation, your doctor may recommend one or both of these options.
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). These drugs may be able to slow the progression of rheumatoid arthritis and prevent permanent damage to the joints and other tissues. However, there may be side effects to these drugs such as liver damage, lung infection, and bone marrow suppression.
- Biologic agents. A newer class of DMARDs, these drugs target the parts of the immune system that cause inflammation (the same inflammation that causes the joint and tissue damage in RA patients.) The most significant side effect is an increase in the risk of infection, as these drugs also suppress the immune system. Another serious side effect is an increased risk of blood clots in the lungs.
- Steroids. Steroids can reduce inflammation, help to control pain, and slow joint damage. Some are administered as an epidural steroid injection. Potential side effects include bone loss, weight gain, and diabetes. Steroids should not be taken long term, so these are often used to control a flare with a plan to gradually reduce and eventually discontinue them.
- NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Drugs like ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) are widely known as anti-inflammatory pain relievers. Prescription- strength NSAIDs can be prescribed by a doctor. Side effects may include stomach irritation, kidney damage, and heart problems.
- Physical or Occupational Therapy. Therapy can help patients with RA keep their joints flexible and reduce pain. Your therapist may be able to show you new ways to perform daily tasks that reduce the amount of stress on your joints. They may also recommend assistive devices to help with daily activities, such as buttonhooks and specialized kitchen tools.
CORE Medical & Wellness Provides Treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis
If you’re looking for treatment options for RA, CORE Medical & Wellness can help. We offer a variety of treatments and therapies that can relieve your pain, reduce inflammation, and help you regain joint movement. For more information, visit: https://coremedicalwellness.com/services/interventional-pain-management/
Improve your quality of life with RA. Call CORE Medical & Wellness today: (888) 521-0688 or request a call.
Dr. Richard Kang is double board certified in anesthesiology and pain medicine, and he completed an interventional pain medicine fellowship at the prestigious New York Presbyterian Hospital / Columbia University – College of Physicians and Surgeons. Read his full bio here.