Millions of people each year deal with rheumatoid arthritis, making it one of the more common forms of arthritis next to osteoarthritis. The causes of rheumatoid arthritis still aren’t fully understood, but as an autoimmune disease, this condition results in the immune system attacking healthy cells in the body. For rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, this means the joints.
Although the chronic joint pain, stiffness and swollen joints associated with rheumatoid arthritis can have a devastating impact on your quality of life, it’s important to keep a positive attitude about treatment. While there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis there are many effective treatments that can help patients experience a good quality of life. By understanding how this condition causes joint pain and what the factors that increase risk and severity of symptoms are, you can take a proactive approach to treatment and finding relief.
Take a few moments to read over the following guide. The team at Outpatient Joint Replacement Center of America is committed to helping patients from all walks of life achieve a healthy and active lifestyle. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.
Understanding Causes and Factors that Increase Risk for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Normally, our immune systems are what protect us from getting sick and help us recover from diseases. A regularly functioning immune system is designed to fight off foreign germs, including viruses and bacteria, when they enter the body. Medical researchers and physicians still don’t understand why the immune system misfires for some people, but with autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, antibodies essentially turn against the host system.
Rheumatoid arthritis most commonly affects adults from their 30s to 60s, and is diagnosed disproportionately in females compared to males. In addition to age and sex, here are other major factors believed to increase the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis:
- Genetic predisposition — Researchers have identified certain genetic markers that increase the likelihood of developing rheumatoid arthritis. Evidence points to a certain gene, called human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class II genotypes that increase risk for rheumatoid arthritis, particularly when combined with lifestyle factors such smoking and obesity.
- Certain early exposures — Being exposed to a negative health factor such as secondhand smoking at birth or during childhood has been shown to increase risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis to a very high degree.
- Being overweight or obese — While the mechanisms are still being understood, there is evidence that obesity has an elevated risk for developing autoimmune disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis.
- Tobacco use — Smokers are another population with an increased risk for rheumatoid arthritis, in addition to the many other negative health effects associated with this activity.
The prevalence of rheumatoid arthritis is believed to be around 1 to 2% of the population. Patients usually begin to experience a number of distinct symptoms that worsen over time.
What Are the Primary Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is associated with a gradual onset of symptoms. Beginning with minor aches and stiffness over a few months, the condition can eventually develop into the following more serious symptoms:
- Joint pain throughout the body, particularly the hands, wrists and knees
- Swollen joints, visible swelling and tenderness
- Pain and inflammation on both sides of the body, compared to osteoarthritis, where joint pain is more pronounced on one side
- Joint deformity and dysfunction
- Muscle weakness, fatigue and tiredness
- Fever, in some cases
- Lung, heart and eye problems
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms can have a cycle of flare-ups and remissions, similar to other autoimmune disorders. Patients experiencing any potential rheumatoid arthritis symptoms should seek immediate diagnosis, as treating this condition early offers the best chance of slowing its progress. Taking a proactive approach to this condition offers increased ability for successful management and joint pain relief.
Diagnosing and Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis
Similar to other conditions, doctors will typically perform a thorough physical examination, review patient and family medical history, ask questions about symptoms and order diagnostic testing such as a blood work or X-ray.
If rheumatoid arthritis is found to be present and the source of joint pain and other symptoms, the next step in treatment will be to develop a conservative treatment plan designed to manage the condition and potentially slow its progress. Specific treatment measures will vary by patient, but typical options include:
- Using disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, or DMARDs, and biological response modifiers, that have been demonstrated to prevent joint deformity and slow the progress of the disease
- Using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve joint pain and swollen joints, particularly during flare ups
- Hot and/or cold compression therapy to relieve joint pain and swelling
- Modifying activities to reduce stress on the joints
- Staying active as much as possible to keep joints mobile and prevent muscle atrophy
- Undergoing physical therapy to help mobilize joints and soft tissue while learning exercises that help increase stability and function
- Regenerative therapies, including platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections and amniotic injections may help relieve symptoms by boosting the body’s own regenerative capabilities
Doctors will also recommend that rheumatoid arthritis patients commit to a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, a nutrient-rich anti-inflammatory diet and weight management, to promote joint health and limit flare-ups. Anti-inflammatory foods include berries, fatty fish, turmeric, leafy greens, avocados and green tea. In some cases, patients with rheumatoid arthritis may benefit from use of movement aids, including a cane and walkers.
The best combination of treatment will vary on a case by case basis. Finding joint pain relief can be helped by keeping a log of symptoms and how they respond to treatment. This information can be extremely valuable as you and your doctor work together to develop an effective long-term treatment plan.
Is Surgery Ever Indicated for Rheumatoid Arthritis?
For certain patients, surgery for rheumatoid arthritis can start to become an option if joint pain is chronic and no longer responds to conservative therapies and lifestyle adjustments. Like other forms of arthritis and joint disease, rheumatoid arthritis can cause very severe joint damage in affected areas. Over time, this can lead to increased joint pain and decreased function.
For patients with severe joint damage who are candidates, joint replacement surgery can be an effective option that helps improve knee function and relieve joint pain and stiffness. As rheumatoid arthritis often affects the knee, knee replacement surgery may be recommended for patients dealing with severe joint damage that is causing pain.
With advancements in technology, minimally invasive techniques now allow for streamlined outpatient joint replacement procedures in some cases. Typically, the whole knee joint is involved by the systemic effects and therefore total knee replacement is favored over partial replacements.
Rheumatoid arthritis can also affect the hips and cause extensive damage, making hip replacement surgery an option for some patients dealing with rheumatoid arthritis.
Joint Replacement at OJRCA
For patients requiring joint replacement surgery, the knowledgeable and experienced team at OJRCA leverage innovative techniques and protocols that help the highest proportion of joint replacement candidates gain the benefits of an outpatient joint surgery. In addition, people who do require hospitalization in relation to a health condition are still able to benefit from these specialized methods. Specifically, OJRCA patients enjoy less tissue disruption and pain after the procedure, enabling movement earlier in the recovery process.
To learn more about treatment options for your condition and becoming a candidate for joint replacement surgery, contact the OJRCA team today. We want to help patients from all backgrounds achieve the quality of life they deserve.