Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic auto-immune disorder. It causes damage to joints and other tissues of the body. Unlike osteoarthritis, in rheumatoid arthritis the joint lining is mainly affected. The rheumatoid arthritis is sometimes referred to as a systemic illness. It is because this condition affects multiple organs of the body. Early diagnosis and treatment are useful to prevent overall destruction of the body.
The actual cause of rheumatoid arthritis is still unknown. People of any age can be affected with this condition. However, it mainly occurs after the age of 40. It is assumed that rheumatoid arthritis is a hereditary disorder. It occurs when the immune system starts to attack the tissues in the body. Some environmental factors such as bacteria, virus, hormone changes, etc tend to activate the auto-immune disorders.
Painful and swollen joints are the common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. However, the symptoms may vary from person to person. Other commonly seen symptoms are:
- Stiff joints mainly in morning
- Movement limited and deformed joints
- Fatigue, fever and reddish joints
- Tough tissue bumps beneath the skin
- Burning or itching sensation in hands and feet
In early stages, the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis is very difficult. A test to confirm rheumatoid arthritis still does not exist. Usually blood tests and imaging tests are done to detect the symptoms. The blood test is helpful to determine the ESR or sed rate. The lower rate indicates an on-going inflammatory process in the body. Imaging tests, such as x-rays, provide view of the severity of condition.
Rheumatoid arthritis cannot be completely cured. However, proper treatments are useful to limit the symptoms. In respect to the severity, the treatment procedure is decided by the doctor. The doctor may recommend:
- Non-surgical Treatment:
A variety of medications along with therapy are included in non-surgical treatment. They are described below:
The initial stages may be treated well with proper medications. They are successful in reducing pain, inflammation and swelling. They put a limit to the developing symptoms. If disease progresses, higher dosage may be taken. However, they should be taken under proper prescription of a doctor. In contrast case, there occurs higher risk of side-effects. The side-effects include hypertension, heart disease, gastric problems, etc. The various medications used are:
- Non-steroidal ant-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
- TNF-alpha inhibitors
In addition to medications, use of therapies is suggested. They increase the flexibility of the joints. The therapies provide new easier ways of doing daily tasks without affecting the joints. They improve the range of motion and strengthens muscles. Supportive devices, heat or cold therapy, etc are also useful.
- Surgical Treatment:
In severe cases, non-surgical treatments may not help. These can be treated with the help of surgical methods. The different surgical procedures are:
- Total Joint Replacement
Arthroplasty is done for total joint replacement surgery. During the surgery, the damaged parts of joint are surgically removed. These spaces are replaced with a prosthesis. Usually a metal or plastic prosthesis is used.
- Tendon Repair
Joint inflammation, sometimes, cause the nearby tendons to get damage. The tendons appear loosened or ruptured. This surgery aims to restore or repair the damaged tendons.
- Joint Fusion
In case, joint replacement surgery, does not fit as a correct option, the joint fusion surgery is chosen. The joint is surgically stabilized or re-aligned. This is done by fusing or joining the joints. The other names for joint fusion are syndesis, arthrodesis and artifical ankylosis.
The person is allowed to go home 2-3 days after surgery. Self-care is an important factor for a healthy joint. Proper rest is essential. Activities which exert pressure on the joints should be strictly avoided. The pain in the wound can be relieved with medications, or heat and col therapy. Muscle strengthening exercises such as swimming, walking, etc are also beneficial. The person may recover completely in 2-3 months.
The potential risks included are:
- Damage to tissues of lungs
- Arteries may harden
- Nerve disorder
- Spinal disorder