Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic disease in which various joints in the body are inflamed, leading to swelling, pain, stiffness, and the possible loss of function. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks joints and other tissues and is usually on both sides, involves the hands and other joints, and is worse in the morning. RA is a systemic (body-wide) disease, involving other body organs, whereas osteoarthritis is limited to the joints. Both forms of arthritis can be crippling.
Doctors do not know exactly what causes rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The condition is most likely triggered by a combination of factors including an abnormal autoimmune response, genetic susceptibility, and some environmental or biologic trigger such as a viral infection or hormonal changes.
How is Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosed?
RA can be difficult to diagnose when it’s in its early stages. A doctor will base a diagnosis on a patient’s medical history, physical exam, and the results of laboratory tests for specific antibodies.
How is Rheumatoid Arthritis Treated?
The treatment of RA involves medications and lifestyle changes (including exercise). The goals are to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, slow joint damage, and improve the patient’s quality of life. Disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biological drugs are the main medications used for rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, it is important to monitor for manifestations of rheumatoid arthritis that occur in other sites than joints.
The American College of Rheumatology’s (ACR) drug treatment guidelines for RA recommend:
- The ACR recommends aggressive drug treatment of RA while it is still in its early stages.
- The goal of drug therapy should be to lower disease activity and achieve remission. Patients need individualized treatment goals.
- Drug therapy should be tailored to each patient’s individual case. The decision to use single or combination therapy (and which DMARDs or biologic drugs) depends on many factors, including the course and prognosis of the patient’s condition.
- Before starting drug therapy, patients should get vaccinated for bacterial infections such as pneumococcal disease, and viruses such as influenza, hepatitis B, human papillomavirus, and varicella zoster.