Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a disease in which the body’s immune system – which normally attacks foreign bacteria and viruses – mistakenly attacks joints.
This creates painful inflammation and thickening in the tissue around the joints. RA commonly affects hands, feet, wrists, elbows, knees and ankles, but since it is a systemic disease, it can impact your whole body. No one knows for sure why the immune system begins to malfunction, but there is scientific evidence that genes, hormones and environmental factors are involved.
If RA inflammation continues unchecked, it can cause damage. Joints can become loose, unstable, painful, and diminished in mobility. Damage can occur early in the disease and cannot be reversed. For this reason, early diagnosis and aggressive treatment is important.
About 1.5 million people in the United States have rheumatoid arthritis; nearly 70 percent of those are women. RA commonly begins between the ages of 30 and 60 for women. In men, it often occurs later in life. In the initial stages of the disease you may not notice redness or swelling in your joints, but they may be tender or painful. Early symptoms of RA include swelling and stiffness in joints for weeks at a time, stiffness that extends beyond the morning, and symmetrical pain (both knees hurt, or both wrists hurt). Many people also have fatigue, a loss of appetite and a low-grade fever. Symptoms can come and go with the ebb and flow of inflammation. A period of inflammation (called a flare) can last for days or months.
A visit with our physicians can help to determine if you have RA. To make a diagnosis, the physician will ask questions about your medical history, perform a physical exam, and order diagnostic tests. They’ll ask about current symptoms (pain, tenderness, stiffness, difficulty moving), and will want to know about your family medical history. During the physical exam, the physician will take a look at each joint, checking for tenderness, swelling, warmth and movement. The physical exam may reveal other signs of RA, such as rheumatoid nodules or a low-grade fever. A blood test can measure inflammation levels and check for blood proteins that may be a sign of RA. You’ll be able to talk to the doctor about any questions you have.
If you have RA, we’ll begin treatments to stop the inflammation, relieve symptoms, and prevent permanent joint and organ damage. We hope to improve your overall well-being and reduce long-term complications from the disease. Our goal is to get disease activity to a low level and keep it there. Research shows that tight control can prevent or slow the pace of joint damage.
When you are ready to meet with the physician, please give us a call. Early and aggressive treatment of RA can minimize long-term damage, so don’t delay. Make an appointment to learn how we can help with diagnosis, treatment, and management. Contact Us Today.Contact Us Today