A chronic inflammatory condition, rheumatoid arthritis, affects not just joints but also blood vessels, heart, lungs, eyes, and skin. The immune system of patients living with this autoimmune disorder starts attacking its own body’s tissues.
Unlike the gradual wear-and-tear damage associated with osteoarthritis, this condition causes a painful swelling in the joints. Eventually, it causes joint deformity and erosion. Because of its inflammatory nature, rheumatoid arthritis can also damage other parts of the patient’s body.
Even though treatment options have improved dramatically over the years, it continues to be a significant cause of physical disabilities in seniors. Hence, in this blog post, we will study the detection and management of rheumatoid arthritis in detail.
Diagnosis and Management of Rheumatoid Arthritis
If you suspect a loved one or yourself with this condition, it’s crucial to know rheumatoid arthritis symptoms:
Some of them include:
- Loss of appetite
- Fever accompanied by fatigue.
- Stiffness in the joints that gets worse in the wee hours or after a certain period of inactivity.
- Swollen, warm, tender joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects smaller joints during its onset, especially those that attach toes to feet and fingers to hands. It progresses to damage larger joints with time, including the shoulders, hips, elbows, ankles, knees, and wrists.
Mostly, joints present on both sides of the body are affected by this disorder. However, some patients with rheumatoid arthritis may not experience joint-related symptoms at all. The condition may affect non-joint structures such as bone marrow, nerve tissue, salivary glands, kidneys, eyes, etc.
In some patients, the symptoms may fade away (relative remission) only to reappear later (flares). Over time, joints may eventually shift out of place or deform completely.
When Should You See a Doctor?
Now that you are aware of the symptoms, it’s essential to know when to visit a doctor.
If the swelling in your joints (or that of your loved one) becomes persistent and causes pain and discomfort, it is time to see a medical professional. Since the rheumatoid arthritis symptoms are similar to those of many other diseases, it’s challenging to diagnose early on.
Your doctor will evaluate the warmth, redness, and swelling of your joints during the physical exam. Apart from that, you may also be checked for your muscle strength and reflexes.
A complete blood test may reveal:
- Higher Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR)
- Elevated levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) indicating an inflammatory process.
- Presence of anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP) antibodies
Over time, your doctor will recommend ultrasounds tests, MRIs, and X-rays to determine the severity and progression of rheumatoid arthritis.
Guidelines for Management of Rheumatoid Arthritis.
Even though there is no cure discovered yet, remission of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms is possible with early detection and management. Doctors will likely prescribe disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), or biologic response modifiers. You should never take these medications without a prescription.
Management of rheumatoid arthritis also involves therapy, surgery, lifestyle, and home remedies.
Let us understand them one by one:
To keep your joints flexible, you can seek occupational or physical therapy upon your doctor’s advice. The therapist may teach you easier ways to perform daily tasks that put less pressure on your joints.
Doctors generally authorize surgery when medications fail to slow the progression of rheumatoid arthritis. It may improve joint function and reduce pain. However, there is a risk of increased pain, infection, and bleeding with surgery.
Some of the procedures include:
- Total joint replacement with plastic and metal prosthesis
- Joint fusion procedure for realignment
- Tendon repair
- Synovectomy to remove the inflamed lining.
Lifestyle and Home Remedies
Along with the medications prescribed by the doctor, rheumatoid arthritis patients need to adopt specific lifestyle changes to manage their symptoms:
- Alleviate Stress: Elevated levels of stress increase the inflammation in your body. Try to find ways to manage your stress. Techniques such as muscle relaxation, deep breathing, and guided imagery can help relieve some pain.
- Apply Heat or Cold: Heat may offer some comfort for your painful joints and muscles. Besides, cold can reduce swelling and has a numbing effect on your joints, thereby dulling the pain sensation.
- Exercise Regularly: It’s essential to strengthen your joints and muscles to manage rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Consult your doctor to determine what type of exercise would be suitable for you. Avoid exercising severely inflamed joints.
Early diagnosis is critical in the management of rheumatoid arthritis. By following the guidelines mentioned above and seeking therapy, you can maintain a reasonable quality of life.