Rheumatoid Arthritis: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

Overview

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects your joints. It is an autoimmune condition, which means that your immune system mistakes your joint linings as foreign and attacks them. Usually, the condition causes pain and inflammation.

Moreover, in many situations, rheumatoid arthritis does not only cause problems in your joints but also affects your skin, eyes, lungs, blood or nerves. For people with rheumatoid arthritis, they often feel pain in symmetrical joints, such as both hands and both feet.

In the United States, about 1% of the general population lives with rheumatoid arthritis. According to statistics, about 1.3 million American people suffer from the condition in 2014.

Women are more likely to develop the condition than men. Approximately, as high as 70% of all patients with rheumatoid arthritis are women. What’s more, middle-aged people and elderly people are usually at higher risk of getting rheumatoid arthritis.

Causes

Right now, the cause of rheumatoid arthritis is still unknown. According to researches and studies, genetic and environmental factors may both play a role in developing the condition. Experts have found that a specific gene called HLA class II may be related to the disease. Researches on this topic are still ongoing.

Symptoms

Common signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis may include the following:

  • Pain in the affected area
  • Swelling of joints
  • Warmth around the affected joints
  • Headaches
  • Pain in the back of the head
  • Stiffness in affected joint
  • Loss of flexibility and function of joints
  • Trouble walking
  • Loss of bowel or bladder function
  • Pain that radiates to the arms and legs
  • Muscle weakness
  • Inflammation of the eyes, mouth, and lungs

As a progressive disorder, rheumatoid arthritis may develop the symptoms gradually and the symptoms may range from mild to severe. If left untreated, inflammation caused by the condition is likely to develop in other parts of the body and cause serious complications.

So, if you have the above-mentioned problems, you should go to the doctor, get an early diagnosis and receive treatments as soon as possible.

Diagnosis

To make a definite diagnosis, a physical examination, imaging tests, and lab tests may be required.

In the physical examination, the doctor may ask for your complete medical history and check your symptoms so as to make a primary diagnosis.

In order to confirm whether you have rheumatoid arthritis or not, the doctor may perform the following imaging tests and lab tests:

  • Rheumatoid factor (RF). In this test, blood will be collected to check the RF antibody level. Most patients with rheumatoid arthritis are tested to have high levels of RF.
  • Anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP). If the anti-CCP test result is positive, it indicates that you may have rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR). This test aims to check how bad the inflammation is in the body.
  • C-reactive protein test: Infections or significant inflammation can trigger your liver to make C-reactive protein. High levels of C-reactive protein often mean you are with rheumatoid arthritis.
  • X-rays test. This test enables the doctor to assess the overall boy anatomy. The result can help the doctor to decide the severity of the condition.
  • MRI scans. This imaging test can produce detailed images of organs and structure within the body and help the doctor to give out a diagnosis.

Usually, rheumatoid arthritis can’t be diagnosed with a single test. So the doctor usually uses a series of tests and methods to determine if you are with the condition or not.

Treatment

At present, rheumatoid arthritis can’t be cured. But proper treatments can be helpful to reduce the symptoms. According to the severity of the condition, the doctor may recommend the following treatment approaches:

Medications

To ease the inflammation and pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis, the doctor may prescribe some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) and Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) such as ibuprofen, methotrexate, leflunomide, hydroxychloroquine, and sulfasalazine.

Biologic agents may also be used to ease the symptoms, such asabatacept, adalimumab, anakinra, certolizumab, etanercept, Simponi, Remicade, rituximab, tocilizumab, and tofacitinib.

You should take medications according to the doctor’s instruction.

Home Remedies

Switching to a healthier lifestyle would be beneficial to ease the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. You may try the following options at home:

  • Proper exercises. Low-impact exercises such as yoga can help to stretch and strengthen your muscles and reduce stiffness in the affected areas.
  • Heat and/or cold therapy. Applying cold packs to the affected areas can help ease the pain and inflammation. You can also use heat packs instead, which can reduce the stiffness to some extent and make you feel more comfortable.
  • Have some good rest. If you are with rheumatoid arthritis, you should get plenty of rest. Having enough sleep can keep the inflammation from getting worse.
  • Eat healthily. An anti-inflammatory diet would be of great help to ease the symptoms too. Your doctor may advise you to eat more foods with high omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants.
  • Eating a lot of fiber and food with flavonoids may also be helpful. You can discuss your diet changes with your doctor to get more detailed information in line with your condition.

Surgery

In some cases, surgical treatment may also be required if the spinal cord is under compression. Usually, the doctor performs the surgery in order to stabilize and decompress the spine. Under such circumstance, a laminectomy or a spinal fusion may be done.

Above all, the doctor will choose the best treatment according to every patient’s reality.

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Jul 18, 2019

Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease, it affects the joints and is also linked to atherogenesis, a disease of the arteries, which can lead to cardiovascular diseases.

University of Toronto researcher Jessica Widdifield has found the drug early and sustained use of a drug called Methotrexate (MTX) can reduce the inflammation of the joints, reduce the atherogenesis and lower the cardiovascular risk.

MTX is a chemotherapeutic agent and an immunosuppressive drug, which means that some family physicians aren’t comfortable prescribing it. Older adults usually can’t get an early access to the treatment. Older adults may think the sufferings are symptoms of getting old, delay presenting to primary care physicians.  Primary care physicians may not always recognize signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and the urgency of a referral to a rheumatologist. The shortage of rheumatologists leads to longer wait time.

Patients who were treated with MTX within the first year of diagnosis experienced a lower rate of cardiovascular events, while those that were given the drug continuously and assessed in the last 12 months reduced their risk by 20 percent, according to the study.


Keywords: rheumatoid arthritis.

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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.