What is rheumatoid
Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that causes
pain, stiffness, swelling, and sometimes joint deformity. It occurs most
commonly in the fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders, jaw, hips, knees, and toes.
It usually affects the same joint on both sides of the body (for example, both
hips). Rheumatoid arthritis often appears first in early adulthood or middle
age. However, sometimes it does not occur until the later years. There may be
one single attack, but more often the condition comes and goes in repeated
episodes. The disease cannot be cured, but medication can reduce the frequency
and severity of attacks. Rheumatoid arthritis affects 1 in every 100 Americans.
It is three times more common in women than in men.
How does it occur?
Rheumatoid arthritis is thought to be
an autoimmune disease. This means that the body's defenses against infection
attack the body's own tissue. In rheumatoid arthritis, the result is that the
lining of a joint becomes inflamed, causing swelling, stiffness, and deformity.
Heredity may make some people more likely than others to have rheumatoid
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms may include:
- joint pain and stiffness, particularly morning
- red, warm, or swollen joints
- joint deformity
- mild fever, tiredness
- small lumps or nodules under the skin.
How is it diagnosed?
Your doctor will review your medical
history and examine you. Your doctor may order blood tests and x-rays to confirm
the diagnosis and measure the extent of the disease.
How is it treated?
The goal of treatment is to keep the
joints working properly by reducing inflammation, relieving the pain and
stiffness, and stopping or slowing down joint damage. Your doctor will prescribe
medication to control the pain and inflammation. Acetaminophen can often help
with pain but will not reduce inflammation in the joint. Common medications that
control both pain and inflammation are aspirin and other anti-inflammatories
such as ibuprofen and naproxen. Steroids are also sometimes used. Newer drugs
for more severe cases are gold compounds (such as auranofin), methotrexate, and
Plaquenil. It may be necessary to inject medication directly into the joint.
These medications must be used with caution because of potential
gastrointestinal, kidney, and heart complications, as well as other side
effects. Medication for rheumatoid arthritis should be taken only after
consulting with your doctor. Physical therapy helps restore use of affected
joints and muscles. Occupational therapy teaches you how to overcome the
disability and manage everyday tasks. You may wear splints to rest inflamed
joints and to prevent them from becoming deformed. Sometimes severely damaged
hips and knees are surgically replaced.
How long will the effects last?
You may have just one
attack of rheumatoid arthritis in your life. More likely, however, you will have
repeated flare-ups, and these flare-ups may become progressively worse. The
flare-ups will vary in length and may last weeks.
How can I take care of myself?
No one yet knows how to
prevent rheumatoid arthritis. However, you can relieve the symptoms and help
prevent the permanent joint deformity that can result from flare-ups by
following these guidelines:
- Take the medication your doctor recommends for
controlling your arthritis.
- Rest your joints when they are warm, swollen, or
- Follow the advice given by your doctor or a physical
therapist on how you can best keep the affected joints mobile.
- Ask an occupational therapist ways you can cope with
- Try to keep a positive outlook. It will make it
easier for you to cope.
- Keep your body healthy by eating a healthy, varied,
- Follow any other recommendations made by your doctor for controlling your