Tag Archives: rheumatoid arthritis

Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis Basics

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the most common type of autoimmune arthritis. It happens when the immune system, or the body’s defense system, isn’t working properly. 

If left untreated, RA can cause permanent damage and complications, like osteoporosis, deformity, rheumatoid nodules, and permanent joint destruction that could require joint replacement.

It’s important to get the help of a rheumatologist, a doctor who treats arthritis and autoimmune diseases. They can help you find the right treatment plan for your RA.

Signs & Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

RA in its early stages usually starts in your smaller joints, like fingers, hands and toes. As it progresses, it can spread to your bigger joints.

In most cases, symptoms occur in the same joints on both sides of your body, and they include:

  • Tender, swollen, or warm joints
  • Joint stiffness that’s usually worst first thing in the morning or after too much inactivity
  • Feeling tired
  • Fever
  • Losing your appetite

40% of the those with RA also have symptoms that affect other parts of their body, like their:

  • Skin
  • Eyes
  • Lungs
  • Heart
  • Kidneys
  • Salivary glands
  • Nerves
  • Bone marrow
  • Blood vessels

These symptoms may come and go and vary over time. Flare-ups are when you experience increased symptoms, but there will also be periods where you experience little to no pain or swelling However, over time, the flare-ups can get worse and eventually cause lasting damage without treatment.

Diagnosing Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is frequently hard to diagnose in its early stages. RA’s early signs and symptoms are similar to those of many other diseases, and there’s no one test that diagnose it.

During your visit, your doctor will check your joints for swelling, warmth, and redness and your reflexes and muscle strength.

They may also order a blood test. Some people with RA experience elevated rates of a certain protein in their blood or their blood shows signs of inflammation. Other common blood tests look for a specific antibody common for those with rheumatoid arthritis.

Your doctor might also recommend x-rays to look at your joints and their progression over time or MRIs and ultrasounds to help them judge the severity of your case.

Treating RA

There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but treatments for RA can help stop joint pain and swelling. Studies show that people who receive early treatment feel better sooner and are more likely to lead an active life. They’re also are less likely to have the type of joint damage that leads to joint replacement.


What kind of medicine your doctor recommends will depend the severity of your rheumatoid arthritis.

  • NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can help with pain and inflammation. You can get over-the-counter NSAIDs like ibuprofen and naproxen sodium in your drugstore. Stronger NSAIDs are also available with a prescription from your doctor.
  • Steroids like prednisone can slow joint damage and help with pain and inflammation. Doctors often prescribe these to help with immediate pain, intending to gradually taper them off later.
  • DMARDs (Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs) can slow RA down and help prevent permanent damage to the joints and other tissues.
  • Biologic agents or biologic response modifiers are a newer class of DMARDs that can target the parts of your immune system that trigger inflammation. They’re frequently paired with a traditional DMARD.

Physical or Occupational Therapy

Your doctor might also send you to physical or occupational therapy to treat your RA. They can teach you exercises to help you stay flexible and relieve pain and help you find easier ways to do things like daily tasks.


Your doctor might also recommend surgery to restore your ability to use your joints and reduce pain. Common RA surgeries include:

  • Synovectomy – This surgery removes the inflamed lining of the joint and is commonly performed on hips, knees, elbows, wrists, and fingers.
  • Tendon repair – Joint damage and inflammation can cause tendons around your joints to loosen, but this type of surgery works to repair them.
  • Joint fusion – You may have to have a joint surgically fused to stabilize or realign it. It can also help with pain.
  • Total joint replacement – This surgery removes the damaged parts of your join and replaces them with a prothesis.

What You Can Do to Improve Your RA

You should regularly do low-impact exercises, like walking, and exercises that increase muscle strength to both improve your overall health and lower the pressure you’re putting on your joints.

Extra weight can also be hard on your joints, so eating right and planning weight management can also help you reduce the stress on your joints.

National Arthritis Awareness Month

National Arthritis Awareness Month

May is National Arthritis Awareness Month, and arthritis is America’s number one cause of disability. There are also nearly 1 million hospitalizations each year because of arthritis.

Coping with Arthritis


Nearly 53 million adults and almost 300,000 babies, kids, and teens have arthritis or a rheumatic condition. Learn more about arthritis.

People with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis miss 172 million days of work per year. Learn about the different kinds of arthritis and be prepared.

Fighting Back Against Arthritis


Many people with arthritis also have other serious conditions. 57% of adults with heart disease, 52% of those with diabetes, and 44% of those with high blood pressure, have arthritis. Learn more about arthritis research.

Struggling with Arthritis and Health Conditions


1/3 of adults with arthritis who would normally be working have limitations in their ability to work, and overall, they’re less likely to be employed than those without arthritis. If you have arthritis, learn more about managing your pain.

Arthritis & Work-Life Limitations


Arthritis and its related conditions account for over $156 billion in yearly lost wages and medical expenses. If you have arthritis though, you have treatment options.

The Cost of Arthritis


If you need support emotionally or the tools and resources to make healthy changes like exercise and diet that can improve your arthritis, the Arthritis Foundation can help.

The Arthritis Support You Need