Rheumatoid Arthritis is an auto-immune disease that affects the joints. Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms include joint pain that starts as a minor pain and occurs on both sides of the body and fatigue. Additional Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms are: fatigue, morning stiffness lasting more than an hour, decreased range of motion in joints and stiff, tender joints when immobile for an hour or more.
There is not a single test that determines a diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis. A diagnosis is made from a body of evidence compiled from sources such as a physical exam, symptoms and the results of diagnostic tests. Rheumatoid Arthritis signs can be indicated by several tests. If Rheumatoid Arthritis is suspected, one or more of the following test may be performed:
• The Rheumatoid Factor Test measures the amount of rheumatoid factor antibody present. About 80% of RA patients test positive for the anti-body.
• The Anti-CCP antibody test (Cyclic Citrullinated Peptide Antibody) is a relatively new test used in conjunction with the Rheumatoid Factor test.
• C-reactive protein is a blood test that measures for a protein in the blood that is usually higher when inflammation or swelling is present.
• Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate indirectly measures how much inflammation is present.
• Joint Ultrasound looks at a specific joint for inflammation or damage.
• Synovial Fluid Analysis- synovial or joint fluid is tested for color and clarity, then examined under a microscope for the presence red and white blood cells or bacteria.
Currently there is no cure, therefore Rheumatoid Arthritis treatment focuses on alleviating pain, reducing inflammation and slowing the progessive damage to the joints. Anti-inflammatory drugs used for Rheumatoid Arthritis treatment include NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen sodium and prescription corticosteroids such as prednisone.
Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are often prescribed for use in conjunction with steroids. Some DMARDs used for Rheumatoid Arthritis treatment include methotrexate, leflunomide, hydroxychloroquine, sulfasalazine and minocycline. DMARDs treat the inflammation and slow the disease progression. These drugs can have serious side effects including liver damage and lung infections. DMARDs can include immunosuppressant drugs such as azathioprine and cyclosporin. These are strong medications that inhibit the body’s immune response.
A new class of drugs called TNF-alpha inhibitors has been effective in Rheumatoid Arthritis treatment. This class of biologic agents was first approved in the United States in 1998 to treat chronic inflammatory diseases. Immunosuppressant drugs target the entire immune system, but the TNF-alpha inhibitors target specific cells. The introduction of biologic agents has had a significant impact on Rheumatoid Arthritis treatment. Patients are at an increased risk of infection while on these drugs, especially if taken with methotrexate or other immunosuppressant medications. Patients are screened for tuberculosis before beginning treatment and should not take any live vaccines while on the biologic agents.
One of the best tools for dealing with a chronic, autoimmune disease is current information. Rheumatoid Arthritis information is available from many reputable sources. The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association and The Arthritis Foundation are two reliable sources. The American College of Rheumatology and RheumatoidArthritis.com are both good places for Rheumatoid Arthritis information and resources. All of the resources listed are non-profit organizations with the exception of RheumatoidArthritis.com, which is sponsored by the pharmaceutical company, Genentech.
Support plays an important role in dealing with issues related to Rheumatoid Arthritis. Doctors specializing in auto-immune diseases or arthritis may have information about support groups. Support groups can provide current Rheumatoid Arthritis information as well as a personal persepctive on how to handle the challenges of living with RA.