Suffering from rheumatoid arthritis (RA) means that dealing with stiff, swollen joints are a normal part of life. The disease starts in smaller joints first, then spreading around the body, affecting the same joints on both sides of the body. About 40% of those with RA have symptoms that affect other parts of the body besides joints.
RA is an autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune system attacks the linings of the joint membranes. The tendons will weaken and the joint will lose its shape and alignment. The inflammation can eventually destroy cartilage and bone in the joint.
Risk factors for RA include women, between the ages of 40-60, family history, smoking, and being overweight. Having RA will increase your risk for osteoporosis, formation of nodules anywhere in the body, dry eyes and mouth, infections, abnormal body composition, carpal tunnel syndrome, heart problems, lung disease, and lymphoma.
There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but if treatment is started early with strong medications called disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), remission of symptoms is possible. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibubrofen can relieve pain and inflammation. Corticosteroid medications, i.e. prednisone, reduce inflammation, pain, and slow joint damage. DMARDs slow the progression of the disease and save the joints from permanent damage. Common DMARDs include methotrexate, leflunomide, and sulfasalazine.
A new class of DMARDs called biologic response modifiers can target parts of the immune system that trigger inflammation in joints. Humira, Remicade, and Rituxan are a few commonly used biologic agents. Biologic DMARDs are most effective when used with a nonbiologic DMARD, such as methotrexate. The FDA has just approved Inflectra, a biosimilar to Remicade. A biosimilar is manufactured in living cells rather than chemically synthesized like traditional pills. This generic is not on the market yet, as there are issues with patent infringement; Remicade’s maker is trying to block biosimilars from the market.
Besides medication, a physical therapist can teach exercises to keep joints flexible. Light exercise and swimming are easy on joints. If damage continues, surgery may be required to repair joints, reducing pain and correcting deformities. There are various procedures involved in RA surgery: removing inflamed lining in joints, repairing tendons that have loosened, fusing joints for stability, and total joint replacement.
Mayo Clinic Staff. Rheumatoid arthritis. Diseases & Conditions. Mayo Clinic, 18 Mar 2016. Web. 10 Apr 2016.
Loftus, Peter. “FDA Approves Rheumatoid Knockoff.” Business. The Wall Street Journal, 5 Apr 2016. Web. 10 Apr 2016.