Tens of millions of Americans experience the nagging pains and physical limitations of the more than 100 forms of arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is among the most debilitating of them all, causing joints to ache and throb and eventually become deformed. Sometimes these symptoms make even the simplest activities such as opening a jar or taking a walk difficult to manage.
Unlike osteoarthritis, which results from wear and tear on your joints, rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory condition. The exact cause is unknown, but it’s believed to be the body’s immune system attacking the synovium the tissue that lines your joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects about 2.1 million Americans. It’s two to three times more common in women than in men and generally strikes between the ages of 20 and 50. But rheumatoid arthritis can also affect young children and adults older than age 50.
There’s no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. But with proper treatment, a strategy for joint protection and changes in lifestyle, you can live a long, productive life with this condition.
The signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis may come and go over time. They include:
Rheumatoid arthritis usually causes problems in several joints at the same time. Early in rheumatoid arthritis, joints in your wrists, hands, feet and knees are the ones most often affected. As the disease progresses, your shoulders, elbows, hips, jaw and neck can become involved. It generally affects both sides of your body at the same time. The knuckles of both hands might be one example.
Small lumps, called rheumatoid nodules, may form under your skin at pressure points, and can occur at your elbows, hands, feet and Achilles tendons. Rheumatoid nodules may also occur elsewhere, including the back of your scalp, over your knee or even in your lungs. These nodules can range in size from as small as a pea to as large as a walnut. Usually these lumps aren’t painful.
In contrast to osteoarthritis, which affects only your bones and joints, rheumatoid arthritis can cause inflammation of tear glands, salivary glands, the linings of your heart and lungs, your lungs themselves and, in rare cases, your blood vessels.
Although rheumatoid arthritis is often a chronic disease, it tends to vary in severity and may even come and go. Periods of increased disease activity called flare-ups or flares alternate with periods of relative remission, during which the swelling, pain, difficulty sleeping and weakness fade or disappear.
Swelling or deformity may limit the flexibility of your joints. But even if you have a severe form of rheumatoid arthritis, you’ll probably retain flexibility in many joints.
If you have signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, your doctor will likely conduct a physical examination and order laboratory tests to determine if you have this form of arthritis. These tests may include:
Treatments for arthritis have improved in recent years. Most treatments involve medications. But in some cases, surgical procedures may be necessary.
Medications for rheumatoid arthritis can relieve its symptoms and slow or halt its progression. They include:
Although a combination of medication and self-care is the first course of action for rheumatoid arthritis, other methods are available for severe cases:
Treating rheumatoid arthritis typically involves using a combination of medical treatments and self-care strategies. The following self-care procedures are important elements for managing the disease:
Many complementary medicine approaches haven’t been studied extensively by researchers using scientific methods. As a result it’s difficult for the scientific community to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of these alternative approaches. And with much of today’s research funding coming from the pharmaceutical industry, some low-tech, nontraditional approaches to managing diseases such as arthritis may not get as much attention from the research community as they deserve. For these reasons, many Western physicians just don’t know enough about these methods to endorse them. Nonetheless, a growing body of evidence indicates that complementary medicine practices could have a role in treating and managing some diseases.
Common forms of complementary and alternative medicine for treatment of arthritis include:
Be careful when considering alternative therapies. Many are expensive and some may be harmful. Before taking any complementary medications or dietary supplements, talk with your doctor to learn about potential dangers, particularly if you’re taking other medications.
Doctorsolve Healthcare Solution site strives to provide you with timely, accurate information, which is not intended for diagnosis or treatment.