If you’re one of the 1.5 million people in the United States with rheumatoid arthritis, you know how painful the disease can be. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory condition that occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks your own body’s tissues. RA affects joints on both sides of your body, such as both hands, both wrists, and both knees.
RA is not like the wear-and-tear joint damage that occurs due to osteoarthritis. Instead, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of your joints, which causes painful swelling and can eventually result in a damaged or deformed joint.
What Are the Symptoms of RA?
People who have RA may not experience any redness or swelling in the joints, but they may feel like their joints are tender and painful. As RA symptoms worsen, you might also have:
- Morning stiffness that lasts for a half hour or more
- Joint pain, tenderness, and swelling or stiffness which lasts for six weeks or more
- Pain and tenderness in the small joints (including the wrists, joints of the hands and feet)
- Pain in the same joints on both sides of the body
- Loss of appetite
- Low grade fever
RA symptoms can come and go, and some people are pain-free for long periods of time. However, when inflammation and other symptoms worsen, this is known as a flare. A flare can last for several days or months. If you experience frequent flares, it’s best to work with your physician so that you have a treatment plan to help you manage flare-ups.
How is RA Diagnosed?
In addition to asking about your medical history and conducting a medical exam, your doctor will order lab tests.
Blood tests help your doctor understand inflammation levels and identify antibodies that are associated with RA. Two common inflammation markers include C-reactive protein (CRP) and “sed rate,” which stands for erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR). If your ESR or CRP is high and RA symptoms are present, these factors help your doctor make a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis.
How is RA Treated?
Medication is the main treatment for RA. The type of medication that your doctor prescribes depends on the severity of your symptoms and how long you’ve had rheumatoid arthritis. Medications might include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help reduce pain and inflammation. Talk to your doctor about possible effects such as stomach irritation and find out if NSAIDs are right for you.
- Steroid medications help reduce inflammation and pain and slow joint damage.
- Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, called DMARDs. These medications slow the progression of RA.
- Biologic medications, which target parts of the immune system that promote inflammation.
In addition to medications, some people can benefit from physical therapy to help keep joints flexible and mobile. In severe cases, your doctor might recommend surgery to treat damaged joints or to improve joint function.
When to See Your Doctor
It’s a good idea to see your doctor if you have morning stiffness and joint pain or swelling for a couple of weeks. Your health care provider can run tests and examine you to determine the cause of your pain and other symptoms.
If rheumatoid arthritis affects your ability to enjoy your busy lifestyle, it’s time to take control. Contact the experts at Flexogenix™ for a consultation. They can help you manage your RA symptoms and discuss the latest non-invasive treatment options so you can continue your usual activities. You don’t have to suffer from painful, swollen joints. Take the step to get relief today.