How Do You Know It’s RA?
To diagnose rheumatoid arthritis, your physician will take a medical history and perform a physical examination. The doctor will look for certain features of RA, including swelling, warmth and limited motion in joints throughout your body, as well as nodules or lumps under the skin. Your doctor may also ask if you have experienced fatigue or an overall feeling of stiffness. The pattern of joints affected by arthritis can help distinguish rheumatoid arthritis from other conditions. Your physician should recommend certain blood tests to identify antibodies, levels of inflammation and other markers that aid diagnosis and assessments. He’ll likely call for X-rays to determine if you have bone loss at the edges of joints – called erosions – combined with loss of joint cartilage.
Although there is no cure for RA, highly effective treatments exist. Once you have a diagnosis, you should begin treatment right away to slow disease progression and lower chances for joint damage.
Medications used to treat rheumatoid arthritis can be divided into two groups: those that help relieve symptoms and reduce inflammation (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroids), and those that can modify the disease or put it in remission (disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs and biologic agents). Your physician may recommend using two or more together. Some medications affect the immune system or have other side effects, making careful monitoring very important. Research on new medications is ongoing, with an influx of new drugs into the pipeline.
Lifestyle Changes Can Help
Engaging in moderate physical activity on a regular basis helps decrease fatigue, strengthen muscles and bones, increase flexibility and stamina, and improves your general sense of well-being. When your symptoms are under control, work with your health-care team to develop a full exercise program that includes stretching for joint flexibility and range of motion, strength training for joint support and aerobic (cardiovascular) exercise for overall health, weight control, muscle strength and energy level.
Overall, eat a balanced, healthy diet. Although scientific studies have not proved that diet changes either cause or relieve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, studies do show that a wide variety of foods, from strawberries to olives to fish, can help reduce RA inflammation, while selenium and vitamin D may have preventative effects.
Practice self-management techniques by learning all you can about the disease and knowing what to expect. Discuss it with your family, with your physicians and with other health professionals involved in your care. Contact your local Arthritis Foundation office to find out about educational events and the Life Improvement Series of programs, including aquatic exercise and tai chi.
Learn more: The Importance of Early Diagnosis and Treatment