Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease and one of the most disabling and debilitating forms of arthritis. According to the Arthritis Foundation, it affects approximately 1.3 million Americans, and it causes joints to swell and can eventually result in deformity. What causes it is unknown, although most researchers believe it is an immunity problem where the body attacks the tissue that lines a person’s joints, known as the synovium.
Rheumatoid arthritis generally flares up, appearing one day and disappearing the next. It can last for years and sufferers can experience long periods without symptoms. When there is inflammation the disease is active and when the inflammation disappears, the disease is inactive. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect other organs, such as the lungs, heart, spleen, and can also result in anemia or vasculitis. Over time the following symptoms usually develop:
- Deformed joints
- Feeling unwell
- Joint pain and swelling, particularly noticeable in the smaller hand and foot joints
- Joint and muscle aches or stiffness after sleeping or rest for long periods of time
- Loss of motion in affected joints
- Loss of strength in muscles attached to affected joints
- Severe fatigue during flare-ups
There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. However, there are first-line medications. First-line medications include aspirin, naproxen, ibuprofen, etodolac, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs); however, aspirin and NSAIDS can cause abdominal and stomach upset or ulcers, and other medications made need to be taken to resolve those issue. Corticosteroid medications are sometimes injected into the joints and surrounding tissue and can help for a time, although they are not a long-term solution and can have serious side effects, such as thinning bones, which can lead to osteoporosis.
One problem with the first-line medications is that although they might relieve inflammation and pain, they don’t prevent joint damage, so second-line medications are used. These medications are known as disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs or DMARDs. These are slow-acting medications and can encourage remission. These drugs include hydroxychloroquine, sulfasalazine, methotrexate, gold salts, D-penicillamine, and immunosuppressive medications. These second-line medications have advantages, as well as disadvantages. Talk to your doctor for more information, including information on new medications, other treatments, and surgery.
People with rheumatoid arthritis are also encouraged to exercise so that they can maintain joint mobility and strengthen muscles surrounding problem joints. One beneficial sport for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers is swimming. It allows sufferers to exercise without stressing their joints. If you’re interested in learning more about swimming, read Getting Started with Swimming for Fitness. Additionally, stress can aggravate the problem, so sufferers benefit from meditation, relaxation techniques, and stress busters, such as those suggested in Fifteen Great Stress Busters.
To learn more about rheumatoid arthritis, visit the Arthritis Foundation.