Rheumatoid arthritis is a condition in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints, creating inflammation that causes the tissue that lines the joints (synovium) to thicken. This results in swelling and pain in and around the joints. It is the synovium that makes a fluid that lubricates joints and helps them move smoothly. Currently, there are more than 1.5 million Americans suffering from the condition, and nearly three times as many women suffer from the condition than men.
With rheumatoid arthritis, if the attack continues without treatment, it can damage the cartilage that covers the ends of the bones in a joint, and the bones themselves. With time, there is a loss of cartilage, and the space between the joints becomes smaller. The joints can become painful, unstable, loose and experience a loss of mobility. Joint damage cannot be reversed, and because it can happen early, doctors recommend aggressive treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.
What are the Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?
In the initial stages of rheumatoid arthritis, a person may not see any redness or swelling in the joints but may only experience tenderness and pain in the joint. As the condition worsens routine symptoms like joint pain, swelling and stiffness may be accompanied by fatigue, weakness, flu-like symptoms accompanied by a low-grade fever, loss of appetite, depression, chronic dry eye or dry mouth and, in people with more advanced disease, bumps (called rheumatoid nodules) may be apparent under the skin.
It goes without saying that left untreated, rheumatoid arthritis can impact your quality of life, including loss of mobility and the inability to perform other activities of daily function.
To diagnose your condition, the doctor will have you explain your symptoms and provide a medical history. Your joint will be examined and the doctor may order blood work, X-rays, a CT scan or MRI to get perspective on your condition.
How is Rheumatoid Arthritis Treated?
In most cases, your family physician will refer you to a specialist called a rheumatologist. This type of physician specializes in care for inflammatory diseases. Your rheumatologist will evaluate your condition and recommend treatment options. There is no cure for the condition, but it can be managed using new drugs, exercise, and joint protection techniques.
Manage your Pain and Preserve your Joint
Since rheumatoid arthritis is not curable, the majority of physicians understand the value of treating the condition aggressively with specific medications designed to slow disease progression. Your physician may prescribe any number of medications or a combination of medications including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), steroids, analgesics, disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) or biologic response modifiers used to impact the immune system.
Understanding your Surgical Options
If you’ve tried multiple approaches to alleviate your rheumatoid arthritis pain, and your joint damage is beginning to impact your quality of life, then your doctor will likely suggest surgery. This will help in relieving your pain and restoring your mobility. Surgery today has come a long way and includes a full range of surgical procedures which can be tailor made to your needs.
At Adventist Health Lodi Memorial, Dr. Stephen Howell provides his patients with the kinematic alignment procedure, which is a customized approach designed for your anatomy. Kinematic alignment offers patients shorter lengths of stay and quicker return to prior function.