Release Date: 3/15/2012
Rheumatoid arthritis – chronic, painful, but treatable disease
Dr. Beth Sjoblom, an internal medicine specialist who is board-certified in geriatrics, practices at St. Anthony’s Medical Plaza. For a referral, call 314-ANTHONY (268-4669).
Rheumatoid arthritis affects approximately 1.3 million people in the United States – nearly one percent of the population. While it can affect anyone, even children, 70 percent of its sufferers are women. Onset usually occurs between the ages of 30 and 60.
Unlike the more common osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease – the body attacks the lining of a joint as if it were trying to protect it from injury or disease. The lining becomes inflamed and fluid builds up in the joints, resulting in pain, swelling and stiffness that may affect many different joints at the same time. Usually at least two or three different joints are involved on both sides of the body, often in a mirror-image pattern.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disease; which means it not only destroys joints but also can attack organs, such as the heart, muscles, blood vessels, nervous system and eyes. It also is a chronic disease – it is treatable, but not curable. Early diagnosis and treatment is critical to limit permanent joint damage and ensuing disability.
Initial symptoms may include lasting joint pain, swelling and stiffness; tenderness when touching a joint or problems moving it normally, or warmth or redness in a joint. If any of these symptoms lasts longer than two weeks, see your doctor.
Other common symptoms include fatigue, weakness, flu-like symptoms, low-grade fever, muscle pain, loss of appetite, depression, weight loss, anemia and cold and/or sweaty hands. If any of these symptoms accompany joint pain and swelling, see your doctor immediately. Without treatment, in its advanced stages, rheumatoid arthritis can cause deformity and instability in the joints, as well as multiple medical problems and an overall general decline in health.
In order to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis, your doctor will take a complete health history and perform a comprehensive physical exam. Additional diagnostic tools may include blood tests, x-rays, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and bone densitometry.
Treatment may include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce inflammation and relieve pain; disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDS) to slow damage from the disease; or biologic response modifiers, which help block damage done by the immune system. In severe cases, some type of surgery may be recommended.
Along with medication, your physician may recommend non-drug approaches to treatment, including physical therapy, hydrotherapy (exercising in warm water) or relaxation therapy. Exercises, such as walking, swimming, bicycling, weight training or aerobic exercises may help relieve stiffness, increase joint flexibility, lessen swelling and improve muscle strength. Ask your doctor about exercises that are appropriate to your condition.
Above all, don’t delay seeking medical advice and treatment for any joint pain. Do not assume that arthritis is a normal part of aging. Your doctor can help you to lessen the pain and stiffness caused by rheumatoid arthritis and to prevent more serious damage to your joints.
Dr. Beth Sjoblom, an internal medicine specialist who is board-certified in geriatrics, is a member of St. Anthony’s Physician Organization. She practices at St. Anthony’s Medical Plaza, Suite 270, 12700 Southfork Road, 314-525-4678. For a referral to any St. Anthony’s physician, call 314-ANTHONY (268-4669) or 1-800-554-9550.
For information, please call our Health Access Line at 314-ANTHONY (268-4669) or 800-554-9550 or visit find a physician online.
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