According to the Arthritis Foundation, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a chronic condition characterized by inflammation of the lining, or synovium, of the joints, affects 2.1 million individuals nationwide. Although there is no known cure for RA, progressive new treatments, early detection and ongoing assessment by a Lahey rheumatologist can help patients manage their condition and maintain a better quality of life.
Early symptoms of RA can appear in any joint, although the condition typically begins in the smaller joints of the hands, wrists and fingers. Joint pain is typically symmetrical - if a joint hurts on your left hand, it is highly likely that the same joint will hurt on the right as well. A systemic disease, RA can move throughout a patient's body, causing problems in other organs. If not diagnosed and treated early, the condition can progress, leading to long-term joint damage, chronic pain, loss of function and disability. RA can present itself differently in different patients. Some of the more common symptoms that may appear in various stages of the disease include:
Rheumatoid arthritis is referred to as an autoimmune disease. In a healthy immune system, white blood cells produce antibodies that protect the body against foreign substances. In people with RA, the immune system mistakes the body's healthy tissue for a foreign invader and attacks it. Although the cause of RA is not known, researchers have identified certain factors that may increase a person's risk for developing the condition:
Your Lahey rheumatologist will take a detailed medical history and perform a thorough physical exam. Lab tests and X-rays will be administered if necessary. Some of the physical clues your health care provider will look for when making a diagnosis include:
Signs of rheumatoid arthritis in other organs, including lungs, skin and eyes Your treatment plan may include exercise, education including joint protection and self-management techniques, medication and/or, less frequently, surgery. When necessary, you may be referred to another specialty at Lahey, such as pain management, physical and occupational therapy, or hand/orthopaedic surgery for further consultation. Some of the more common medications prescribed for RA include:
Although the specifics of each treatment plan are tailored to the individual, the overall goals are generally the same: to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, stop or slow joint damage, and improve function and a sense of well-being for all patients.
Further information about rheumatoid arthritis