What is rheumatoid arthritis (RA)?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is one of over 100 different types of arthritis. While most types of arthritis become more likely to occur as we age, RA can attack at any age. In fact, this particularly painful and potentially disabling type of arthritis most commonly strikes between the ages of 25 and 50, although it can strike children and teens as well.

This painful condition affects about 300,000 Canadians, and women are 3 times as likely as men to develop RA.

RA is a type of rheumatic or inflammatory disease, a disease that causes pain and inflammation of joints and muscles and even internal organs such as the heart. Joint damage can also occur, which can often be seen in X-rays. RA can lead to loss of joint function, loss of productivity, and difficulty performing everyday activities. Other examples of inflammatory diseases include ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis. When left untreated, RA may result in joint swelling and damage and pain severe enough to affect your ability to work or perform everyday tasks like dressing and cooking.

healthy joint vs. joint with rheumatoid arthritis

But RA doesn't need to come between you and your ability to live your life. In recent years, research and treatments have given new hope to people living with RA. Early and appropriate treatment can control signs and symptoms of RA and slow or prevent damage to joints. This can be done through arming yourself with knowledge about your condition, and through a tailored treatment plan that includes a combination of medication, exercise, and other strategies.

If you suffer from RA, it's important for your doctor to understand how it affects your well-being and level of functioning. Fill out the following table by circling the answers that best apply to you. If you have any circles in the "No" or "Not at all" columns, you should see your doctor to discuss your current treatment and how it could be better tailored to relieve your symptoms.

Is my RA under control?
 
Yes
No
Not at all
I have joint pain. Rarely Yes Yes, frequent flares and new spots of inflammation
I have stiffness in the morning. Never Yes, up to 15 minutes Yes, up to 30 minutes or more
Fatigue bothers me. No Moderately Often
My ability to perform normal day-to-day tasks is: Normal Limited Very limited

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2020. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/Learn-About-Rheumatoid-Arthritis

Symptoms of RA

RA causes swelling in the lining of the joints, which leads to redness, pain, swelling, and a feeling of heat or warmth in the area. Morning stiffness of the joints can last at least an hour. You may also feel fatigued or ill, have dry eyes or dry mouth, or have bumps under the skin called rheumatoid nodules. Although many of the body's joints may be affected, RA is most common in the hands and feet.

Symptoms of RA can vary from person to person. About one-third of those affected have mild symptoms at first, which may go away after several weeks or months, but that doesn't mean that damage to the joints is not occurring. For some people, when symptoms come back, they can be more severe, get worse over time, eventually cause disabling joint deformities if left untreated, and may even require surgery.

When symptoms are bad, they are called "flares." In some people, symptoms develop quite quickly and may cause damage or erosion to joints within 2 years of onset. Unfortunately, there is no cure for RA, but with the right treatment symptoms can be managed and progression of joint damage may be slowed down.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2020. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/Learn-About-Rheumatoid-Arthritis

Diagnosing RA

Your doctor will determine if you have RA by performing a physical examination as well as looking at the results of blood tests and X-rays. A diagnosis of RA may be made if 4 or more of the factors below are present (the first 4 factors must be present for at least 6 weeks):

  1. morning stiffness in and around joints lasting at least 1 hour before you are able to move around normally
  2. soft tissue swelling of 3 or more joint areas as determined by a doctor
  3. swelling in the joints of the fingers and wrists
  4. joint swelling of arthritis that occurs symmetrically (i.e., on both knees, both wrists, or other joints)
  5. large bumps or cysts (known as subcutaneous nodules or rheumatoid nodules) that appear under the skin, usually where there isn't much tissue on the bone (e.g., the elbows)
  6. a positive blood test for a substance called rheumatoid factor (RF)
  7. changes in X-rays that suggest arthritic changes in joints of the hands or wrists.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2020. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/Learn-About-Rheumatoid-Arthritis

What should I expect from my treatment?

The goals of managing rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are to relieve pain, control inflammation, slow down joint damage, maintain the ability to perform normal day-to-day tasks, maximize quality of life, and prevent surgery.

Treatment often involves a combination of rest, exercise, physical therapy, emotional support, job and home support, diet, joint protection, and medications. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment of RA helps to control the disease, slow down joint destruction, and delay loss of joint function.

Medication plays a central role in most arthritis treatment plans. Some medications such as biologics and DMARDs reduce the signs and symptoms of RA and slow down joint damage. Other medications such as corticosteroids, NSAIDs, and other pain relievers help to relieve and manage the symptoms of RA. No matter which medication is used, it is important to take the medication as directed by your doctor. You can help take control of RA and slow down joint destruction by sticking with the appropriate treatment.

Treatment for RA does not mean a cure; rather, its goal is to bring the disease under control. This means following your treatment plan until you have achieved remission, a state where you no longer experience the signs and symptoms of RA. Even after you have achieved remission, you must continue to follow your treatment plan so that you may continue to stay in remission.

Your doctor can help you choose the medication that is best for you. Once you start taking a medication, it is important to continue the dosing schedule that is recommended by your doctor. Early treatment is recommended to help bring RA under control. If you do not take them as directed, these medications may not work as effectively to help slow down joint damage.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2020. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: www.medbroadcast.com/healthfeature/gethealthfeature/Learn-About-Rheumatoid-Arthritis