Living With Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is a bit more complex than its more common cousin, osteoarthritis.
Most often, if someone says they have arthritis, they’re referring to osteoarthritis, which is common in older age. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is different. It doesn’t just affect joints—it can also affect the lungs, mouth and eyes. Most commonly, however, it shows up in the wrists and fingers.
RA is an autoimmune disease, which means that rather than being caused by aging, it’s caused by the body’s immune system attacking its tissues. That attack causes inflammation, which in turn damages the bone and cartilage inside joints.
Symptoms of RA include:
- Joints that are warm, tender or swollen
- Inflammation in wrist or finger joints closest to hand
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Pain and stiffness in the morning or after a long nap
- Occasional fevers
Symptoms of RA present differently in different people. For some, they’re mild most of the time except for intense periods called “flares.” For others, symptoms are constantly at high levels of intensity. Symptoms are also typically unilateral—for example, if you experience symptoms in your left hand, chances are good you’ll experience them in your left knee as well, and vice versa.
If you live with RA, you may also experience depression or anxiety. If your RA is poorly controlled, the systemic inflammation that results from RA can also place you at a higher risk for heart disease or stroke.
Finding the Right Treatment
While specifics of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) treatment depend on the severity of your RA, early treatment is the goal in all cases. The earlier you begin treatment, the less likely you are to experience permanent damage to your joints.
Common treatments for rheumatoid arthritis include:
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), which slow the progress of RA
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, and corticosteroids to reduce inflammation in joints
- Biologic response modifiers, medications which reduce inflammation as well as structural damage in the joints
- Lifestyle changes such as exercise, stress reduction and a focus on eating healthy
Rheumatologists—doctors specializing in arthritic conditions—work with patients to design a specially tailored treatment regimen that suits their specific needs.
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