If you've been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you'll want to learn all you can about your condition and discuss treatment options with your doctor. While there is no known cure for RA, recent advances are allowing many people with RA to lead active, productive lives. Treatment options include:
- Lifestyle. Smoking, stress, and being overweight or obese have been associated with worsening RA flares. Quitting cigarettes, learning how to manage stress, exercising and eating a balanced, healthy diet can improve your health and help decrease the intensity of your RA flares.
- Medication. Most people with RA take one or several kinds of medication. Some medications are used to relieve pain; others are used to reduce inflammation. Still other medications actually can limit joint damage and slow overall progression of the disease. These include the newest class of arthritis medications, which are called biologic response modifiers. Ask your doctor whether biologic response modifiers may be right for you. Other commonly used medications include corticosteroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs). Today, modern treatment is initiated very early in the course of RA, and this fact probably accounts for the positive outlook we currently have. Prevention of joint damage and disability is the goal of modern medication strategies.
- Surgery. When lifestyle modification and medications aren't enough, you may need to undergo surgery. Some of the more common procedures include:
- Joint replacement. Damaged portions of your joint (such as your knee or hip joints) are removed by your surgeon and replaced with an artificial part made of plastic and metal.
- Joint fusion. If total joint replacement is not an option, joint fusion may be recommended. This procedure binds the two surfaces of a joint to keep them from rubbing together.
- Joint-lining removal. If the linings of your joints are inflamed and painful, they can be removed by your doctor.
- Tendon repair (synovectomy). Tendons are the tissues that connect your bone and muscle. They can be ruptured by the inflammation caused by RA, but fortunately, doctors can repair the damage.
- Routine monitoring. Your RA needs to be monitored regularly so that your doctor can determine how well your treatment is working, and whether your treatment regimen should be changed. Regular checkups also can help you and your doctor stay on top of medication side effects. X-rays, and blood and urine tests, may also be performed.
Taking your medications regularly, following your treatment plan and routinely seeing members of your healthcare team will help ensure that you are on the best path to living well with RA.