In the United States, around 1.5 million people have rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Though the condition primarily affects the joints, it can cause other issues as well. For example, one year after diagnosis, your risk of a heart attack or stroke is 60% higher than that of a person without RA.
The good news is that with early, appropriate treatment, the progression of RA can be slowed. Many of the patients under the care of the experts at Rheumatology Solutions even experience long periods of remission. Here, we take a closer look at what rheumatoid arthritis might mean for you.
Rheumatoid arthritis: what it is
When you hear the word arthritis, you probably automatically think about joints. Although there are more than 100 different forms of arthritis, the most common type is osteoarthritis, which is caused by normal wear-and-tear on your joints. RA, however, is an inflammatory type of arthritis.
RA is an autoimmune condition, which means that your immune system goes wrong and attacks healthy tissue. In RA, that tissue is usually the lining of your joints.
Inflammation is a function of your immune system. If you have ever gotten a cut and noticed it felt warm as it was healing, you had inflammation. In RA, your joints become inflamed even though they are healthy. Too much inflammation eventually causes damage.
When RA is untreated, it can progress quickly, causing permanent damage to your joints. It may also affect the tissue that lines your heart and your lungs.
The treatments for RA, as well as how the disease is approached, has changed significantly in the last 20 years. Current best practice includes treating RA aggressively, as soon as possible, to prevent joint damage before it happens.
With the early, aggressive treatment approach, you’re more likely to live an active life and experience better outcomes. You’re more likely to see your disease go into remission, and you’re more likely to avoid needing joint replacement in the future.
Several new treatments are available for treating RA, and doctors are learning more about the best way to deploy those treatments. The goal of treatment is to both control your symptoms and to slow the progression of the disease.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) can help control your inflammation and pain, but disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, or DMARDs, are often an important first line treatment. DMARDs have been an important tool for many RA patients to function at near-normal levels.
When DMARDs aren’t effective enough to control the disease, your doctor may suggest the use of a group of drugs called biologics. Biologics suppress your immune system from sending the chemical signals that cause the joint inflammation.
Along with medical treatments, patients with RA often find that making dietary adjustments and establishing a regular routine that includes low-impact exercise can help ease their systems. RA can also disrupt your sleep, so practicing sleep hygiene may be an important part of treating your disease.
If you’ve been diagnosed with RA, or you have reason to suspect you have it, you probably have questions. Schedule an appointment at Rheumatology Solutions, and we’ll work on answering your questions and creating a treatment plan for you.