Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a systemic inflammatory disease that researchers are learning more about every day. To understand the different treatments available for managing RA, it’s important to know more about how the disease affects your body. Rheumatoid arthritis is a common autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in and around the lining of the joints and surrounding tendons and muscles. In people with RA, the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s healthy tissue, causing inflammation. Over time, progressive damage to the cartilage, bone and ligaments makes joints stiff and painful. Joints can become swollen, red and restricted in movement. Inflammation can spread to other parts of the body or the organs in some cases.
Risk factors for Rheumatoid Arthritis:
- More common in women
- Can occur at any age, but typically starts between ages of 40 and 60
- Genetics may play a role
- 80% of people with RA have the rheumatoid factor antibody
Managing Rheumatoid Arthritis
Aggressive treatment can improve function and minimize pain. While there is currently no cure for RA, there are several treatment options available. Your doctor will develop a treatment plan for you based on the extent of your disease, your age, your general health and your occupation. With your doctor’s help and proper care, RA is a manageable condition that has a good prognosis, especially if it is caught in the early stages.
Medication for Rheumatoid Arthritis
There are several classes of medications your doctor may prescribe for you, based on your general health and the extent of the disease.
- First your doctor will probably give you non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen. These drugs are effective in reducing pain and inflammation and typically carry few side effects.
- Corticosteroid medications are used to control flare-ups and help when NSAIDs do not relieve the pain. They work extremely well since they are more potent and can be injected or taken orally. Side effects of these drugs sometimes include weight gain, risk of infections, bruising, and cataracts.
- Slower-acting drugs called disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, or DMARDs, aim to prevent further damage. They may take weeks to build up and become effective. There are several different types of DMARDs, including sulfasalazine, methotrexate and gold salts.
- Newer drugs on the market called biologic medications, which are similar to DMARDs, are found to help some patients.
It may take a few trials before you and your doctor find the right combination of medications that provide the best pain relief and help prevent further damage.
- Doctors suggest eating a healthy, balanced diet. Fish oil and certain omega-3 fatty acids have been shown in studies to reduce inflammation.
- Keeping joints mobile longer helps prevent deterioration. Swimming is a good exercise because it places minimal stress on the joints.
- Physical therapy can be helpful in providing exercises to increase mobility and splints to relieve pressure.
- Surgery is sometimes needed to replace or repair joints.
- Resting and minimizing stress contribute to overall well-being.
For more information and to speak to a doctor or nurse about how you can live life to the fullest with RA, contact us at St. Petersburg General Hospital. Visit us online or use our Consult-a-Nurse®line at 727-341-4055 for answers and free referrals to orthopedists or rheumatologists in and around the St. Petersburg area.