Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease which causes pain, swelling and stiffness to the joints. It can occur at any age, although is seen more often in middle aged women. If not promptly treated, it can cause permanent damage to the bones surrounding the joints, which leads to pain, deformity, and loss of function. If left under-treated, it can also affect other organs. While we do not yet have a permanent cure, we are fortunate today to have many good options to treat rheumatoid arthritis.
Anti-inflammatories, or NSAIDS, act quickly to try to decrease pain and swelling, but they do not treat the underlying disease. Examples include aspirin, ibuprofen, naprosyn, and diclofenac.
Corticosteroids (cortisone), such as prednisone, are more powerful anti-inflammatories that are very effective, but can have severe side effects and their use should be limited in consultaton with your doctor. A cortisone joint injection is a safe alternative to pills.
Disease Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Agents, or DMARDS, act slowly but treat the underlying cause of rheumatoid arthritis and in time, improve pain, swelling, stiffness and function. Biologic DMARDs are a new class which target specific inflammatory proteins in the body.
Patients with rheumatoid arthritis often need a combination of different medications to treat their condition. Over time, many people with rheumatoid arthritis only know they have rheumatoid arthritis because of the medications they require. Unfortunately, the arthritis can return if the medications are stopped.
Exercise, a good diet, and education remain crucial elements in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. There is also evidence suggesting Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish and supplements, may add to the management of RA patients in some cases.