Hearing your Rheumatologist or other physicians say that you have a chronic condition such as rheumatoid arthritis can be a very difficult experience. While there is no cure for this condition, you must also know there are now very effective and successful treatments for this condition that has been so devastating to patients in the past resulting in disability, chronic pain, joint surgeries, loss of employment, and inability to perform the usual activities of daily living (ADLs).
Learning to control and manage your chronic symptoms can help you lead a normal and active life. Understanding and recognizing the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis early can enable you to seek the treatment you need before your condition progresses into more advanced stages. Find out more about rheumatoid arthritis with our own Board Certified Rheumatologist Mark Fisher MD FACR in Haddon Heights, NJ.
What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune condition causing the body’s immune system to activate a multitude of inflammatory substances in your body. This causes inflammation, swelling, and discomfort and occurs most often in the hands, wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles and almost any joint in the body. It usually occurs in a symmetrical distribution, affecting both large and small joints. If left untreated or inadequately treated, rheumatoid arthritis begins damaging the cartilage and bones themselves, causing the space between the bones to lessen, erosions in the bone can occur, deformities result, pain and swelling worsen and function deteriorates.
Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
One of the most common early warning signs of rheumatoid arthritis development is pain, stiffness, and tenderness in the joints. Patients in the earliest stages of this disease often do not notice any redness or swelling, but this does occur as the condition advances. Common signs of rheumatoid arthritis include:
- joint pain
- prolonged morning joint stiffness, lasting 1/2 hour to many hours
- joint tenderness, swelling, or redness
- symptoms usually occur in multiple joints
- symptoms frequently occur symmetrically in similar joints on both sides of the body (i.e: both ankles, both wrists, hands, knees, shoulders )
- symptoms last longer than six weeks
- Of course, other medical conditions such as Lyme disease and others can sometimes give similar symptoms and this is the reason that early medical evaluation by your primary or Rheumatology physician is so important
- Early intervention has been shown to give the best results for joint protection and preservation, and the best response to treatment, avoidance of surgery, and maintenance of good function and activity
Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatments
Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis varies from patient to patient and depends on the stage and severity of the condition and other existing medical conditions. The main goals of treatment are to manage pain, reduce and stop inflammation, relieve and eliminate symptoms, and prevent long-term joint damage and disabling disease. It is very important to begin treatment early to start reducing inflammation. Some medications work to reduce the inflammation and symptoms of the disease while others work to slow down and prevent joint damage.
Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Agents (NSAIDs) - These medications work to help reduce symptoms of stiffness and pain, but do not protect the joints from damage. These can be both over the counter or prescription.
Corticosteroids - are generally used on a more short term basis and can be helpful in reducing inflammation acutely and short term while an effective medical program is developed with discussion between the patient and the treating physician. These medications can be very helpful to quickly reduce symptoms of pain and swelling and do have risks for many serious side effects. This is the reason they are used primarily for acute management while the long term program is instituted.
Disease Modifying Anti-rheumatic Drugs (DMARDS) - help reduce the signs and symptoms of RA. They work by slowing down joint damage and reducing inflammation. The conventional DMARDs can be very helpful in reducing the inflammatory activity and potential damage in joints. More aggressive and more successful management with biological DMARDs or monoclonal antibodies and others that have been placed in use over the past 20 years have made huge strides and fantastic differences in the management of this once devastating illness and improved the lives of millions of patients worldwide.
Of course, all medicines have potentially serious risks and must be discussed and understood, and these are very important concerns.
Other aspects of the treatment program may also include physical and occupational therapy, exercises, and proper nutrition. Some nutraceuticals such as omega 3s, flaxseed oil, turmeric/curcumin can add some further anti-inflammatory activity as a supplement but not a replacement for these overwhelmingly successful treatment programs
In severe cases, surgery to repair or replace the joint may become necessary. However, early visits and treatments can help reduce the need for surgery.
Current treatments and medication offer very effective ways to manage this condition successfully.
For more information on rheumatoid arthritis and its treatment, please contact our Board Certified Rheumatologist Mark Fisher, MD FACR in Haddon Heights, NJ. Call (856) 547-8004 to schedule your appointment today! He does serve the Southern NJ area in Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Atlantic, and Cumberland Counties area.