Reclaim Your Life Through Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment
A chronic inflammatory disease, rheumatoid arthritis typically causes pain, swelling and degeneration in joints. While the disease can cause serious, irreversible damage, recent improvements in treatment methods have drastically improved the prospects for people with rheumatoid arthritis. Through a combination of medicines and other approaches, both newly diagnosed patients and longtime sufferers have new prospects and hope for the future.
Cause and Course of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. Normally, the immune system protects your body from foreign pathogens like viruses and bacteria. While the immune system of rheumatoid arthritis sufferers continues to carry out this function, it also attacks normal, healthy tissue. This leads to the painful inflammation that characterizes rheumatoid arthritis.Rheumatoid arthritis can also cause swelling and tenderness when the disease is active. Sufferers may experience fatigue, anemia and occasional fever. If left unchecked, or if not treated properly in a timely fashion, rheumatoid arthritis can result in serious disability. The consequences can include joint deformation, permanent limitation of range of motion in afflicted joints or even loss of function entirely. Due to these serious repercussions, people who suspect that they may suffer from rheumatoid arthritis are advised to consult their doctor immediately. Luckily, recent advances in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis have drastically improved the prognosis and quality of life for patients.
Changing Approaches to Treatment
In the past, rheumatoid arthritis treatment followed an approach called routine care. Under routine care, a doctor would monitor a patient’s progress with the disease and adjust treatment accordingly. This method typically produced somewhere between 50 and 70 percent improvement in patients.In recent years, a new approach called treat-to-target has come to the forefront. Treat-to-target uses more frequent testing and more aggressive adjustments in medication according to a pre-set treatment protocol. This method is most effective if it is applied within the first year of the disease’s onset; in one study, nearly half of patients were able to eliminate disease activity entirely. Even in more advanced cases, treat-to-target has achieved greater results faster than routine care.The goal of rheumatoid arthritis treatment is twofold. The manifest objective is to minimize disease activity, possibly even achieving remission. The desired result of this is minimizing inflammation and, subsequently, preventing damage to tissue around the joints. To this end, doctors employ various different medications targeting different aspects of the disease. They may also prescribe therapy and even surgery for patients who have already suffered damage to their joints.
When treating rheumatoid arthritis, doctors prescribe different medications to either ease symptoms or to modify the disease’s activity.Analgesics are able to relieve pain but they do not relieve inflammation. They are abundantly available over the counter and, for more severe cases, by prescription. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), on the other hand, are able to relieve pain and inflammation by blocking substances involved in both.Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) work by blocking inflammation in one of two ways. Traditional DMARDs broadly restrict the immune system’s function; more recent iterations are able to target specific pathways inside of immune cells. In either case, these drugs prevent inflammation by obstructing the immune system’s tendency to attack healthy joint tissue. However, DMARDs can take months to take effect. In the meantime, corticosteroids, which mimic the hormone cortisol, may be administered to reduce tissue inflammation. These provide quick relief from inflammation while waiting for DMARDs to kick in. Another category of drug that rheumatoid arthritis patients may encounter is biologics. These are proteins that have been genetically engineered from human genes. Each of the different biologics targets specific parts of or processes within the immune system to stop inflammation, similar to DMARDs.
Physical therapy for rheumatoid arthritis patients will focus on exercising bones, muscles and joints. In the early stages of the disease, the therapist will monitor the patient’s flexibility and strength, and he or she will develop an exercise regimen to help keep the patient’s joints in healthy working order. For people in more advanced stages of rheumatoid arthritis, the physical therapist will focus on ways to maintain and even improve strength and flexibility.Patients afflicted by rheumatoid arthritis should also expect to attend sessions with an occupational therapist. He or she will be able to teach sufferers important ways for them to maintain their independence in the face of decreasing physical capabilities. Specifically, they will learn ways to go about accomplishing everyday tasks that become more difficult when experiencing chronic pain, limited mobility and decreased strength and flexibility.
In extreme cases, surgery may be necessary in order to repair damage to afflicted joints and restore mobility, correct deformity and reduce pain. Some common procedures include removal of inflamed joint linings, repairing loose or damaged tendons, joint fusion to increase stability or bring joints back into alignment, or even total joint replacement with metal and/or plastic prostheses.Although living with rheumatoid arthritis can be challenging, modern treatment methods have made huge strides in surmounting the disease. With your doctor’s help and the right combination of treatments, the painful symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis need not hold you back from a healthy and happy life.