Paras Institute of Rheumatology has a well defined management and treatment protocol for Rheumatoid Arthritis. The institute is well supported by a team of pathologists, radiologists , physiotherapists and other multi disciplinary team that help in providing the precise diagnosis and treatment for this autoimmune disorder. Nearly seven million people in India suffer from a form of arthritis the rheumatoid arthritis – that initially affects the small joints. Females are more affected than males. The ratio is 3:1. And one very important observation has been that the number of females affected prior to menarche and after menopause are less and almost the same as males.
What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that affects the joints. It causes pain, swelling, and stiffness. If one knee or hand has rheumatoid arthritis, usually the other does too. This disease often occurs in more than one joint and can affect any joint in the body. People with this disease may feel sick and tired, and they sometimes get fevers.
Some people have this disease for only a few months or a year or two. Then it goes away without causing damage. Other people have times when the symptoms get worse (flares), and times when they get better (remissions). Others have a severe form of the disease that can last for many years or a lifetime. This form of the disease can cause serious joint damage.
Who can get Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Anyone can get this disease, though it occurs more often in women. Rheumatoid arthritis often starts in middle age and is most common in older people. But children and young adults can also get it.
What are the causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Doctors don’t know the exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis. They know that with this arthritis, a person’s immune system attacks his or her own body tissues.
Researchers are learning many things about why and how this happens. Things that may cause rheumatoid arthritis are:
- Genes (passed from parent to child).
What are the signs and symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?
RA usually starts over a period of weeks to months, with more joints affected over time. You should see your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms for more than two weeks:
- You start to feel unusual pain and stiffness in your joints.
- Swelling of the wrists, knuckles or small joints of the fingers or toes, including the ball of the foot.
- Pain and stiffness in the morning, typically lasting more than 30-60 minutes before you “loosen up” and start feeling better.
- Unexplained tiredness.
- Weight Loss
- Unexplained fever
- Loss of appetite
- Dry eyes and mouth from a related health problem, Sjogren’s syndrome
- Firm lumps, called rheumatoid nodules, which grow beneath the skin in places such as the elbow and hands
How is rheumatoid arthritis diagnosed?
People can go to a family doctor or rheumatologist to be diagnosed. A rheumatologist is a doctor who helps people with problems in the joints, bones, and muscles. Rheumatoid arthritis can be hard to diagnose because:
- There is no single test for the disease.
- The symptoms can be the same as other kinds of joint disease.
- The full symptoms can take time to develop.
To diagnose rheumatoid arthritis, doctors use medical history, physical exam, x rays, and lab tests.
Why is early diagnosis and treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis essential?
RA causes inflammation (swelling, pain and warmth) in the affected joints. You can think of this inflammation like a “fire” burning in the joints. If the fire of inflammation is left “burning,” it can permanently damage the joint. To emphasize, RA can cause permanent joint damage quickly when it is not treated and controlled. This damage can occur even when the pain is not severe.
Once damage occurs, it is not reversible and can cause significant pain and disability. Fortunately, we know that much research has confirmed that treating RA early and aggressively often improves the long-term outcome and significantly reduces damage.
How can I manage Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Once your diagnosis is confirmed, there are many treatments that can help decrease your pain and increase your movement.
Physical activity: Physical activity protects joints by strengthening the muscles around them. Strong muscles and tissues support those joints that have been weakened and damaged by arthritis. A properly designed program by the physiotherapists helps in reducing pain and fatigue, improving mobility and overall fitness.
Heat & Cold: Heat: Taking a warm shower and using warm packs are great ways to help reduce pain and stiffness. Always use a protective barrier, such as a towel, between the warm pack and the skin. Heat is ideal for:
- Relieving pain.
- Relieving muscle spasms and tightness.
- Enhancing range of motion.
To avoid making symptoms worse, heat should not be applied to an already inflamed joint.
Cold: Using a commercial cold pack or a homemade one (from crushed ice, ice cubes or a bag of frozen vegetables) can be helpful. Always use a protective barrier, such as a towel, between the cold pack and the skin. Cold is ideal for:
- Decreasing swelling.
- Decreasing pain.
- Constricting blood flow to an inflamed joint
Relaxation & Coping Skills: Developing good relaxation and coping skills can help you maintain balance in your life, giving you a greater feeling of control over your arthritis and a more positive outlook. Relaxing the muscles around a sore joint reduces pain.
Healthy Eating: The most important link between your diet and arthritis is your weight. Being overweight puts an extra burden on
your weight-bearing joints (back, hips, knees, ankles and feet). Maintaining an appropriate weight will help you more than any food supplements. If you are overweight
and have arthritis, consider a balanced diet as a way to help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight.