Caused by inflammation of the tissue in the joints, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that can affect the entire body. The disease generally develops between the ages of 40 and 60 and is most prevalent in women. In fact, RA affects 3 times more women than men, and 1.5 million people in the US are affected.
If you feel the symptoms of RA developing speak to your doctor. The sooner you get treated, the less damage the disease can do. If it goes without treatment, RA can damage your cartilage. This is the tissue that protects the ends of your bones. Once it is damaged, it cannot be reversed.
The most common symptoms of RA is joint inflammation that can cause pain and discomfort. There will be swelling and warmth at the joint. A diagnosis can be made through x-rays, exams, symptoms, and blood tests and once your doctor does diagnose you, you can start on the treatment that suits you best. Unfortunately, the disease is not curable, but it is treatable and symptoms can be easily managed.
There are many things RA treatment aims to do
- Reduce inflammation
- Improve mobility
- Relieve symptoms
- Prevent damage
- Lesser chance of long-term complications
There are several forms of medical treatment for RA. Depending on your age, overall health, and severity of your condition your doctor can prescribe you drugs or sometimes surgery.
The most common medication prescribed to ease symptoms are NSAIDs or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. These ease inflammation and can help with pain. Ibuprofen or ketoprofen are commonly used and can be taken as pills or can be applied to the skin as a cream.
Drugs that can slow the progression of the disease include
- Corticosteroids – help calm aggressive inflammation to prevent long term damage. These are prescribed for a short time.
- DMARDs – these modify the course of the disease and can be taken orally or can be self-injected.
Most people with RA will never need surgery but those you have permanent joint damage and loss of mobility may need it. Joints are replaced by a plastic or metal joint. Replacements of hips and knees are the most common and recovery time is surprisingly short and painless.
Lifestyle changes are the most effective for early symptoms. OTC anti-inflammatories such as Ibuprofen is great, as is light exercise. People with RA should try to swim to strengthen muscles around the joints. You can do this on your own time or go to a physician who can give you specific workout plans for your condition.
Steam from hot showers or saunas can be especially helpful for pain management as are hot pads or heated blankets.
Photo: Depositphotos/© Tatyana