Joint Deformities in Rheumatoid Arthritis
By Denise Mann
Early, aggressive rheumatoid arthritis treatment may prevent joint deformities.
Thanks to earlier diagnosis and more effective treatments, joint deformities in people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are becoming less frequent and severe. Even so, it’s important to understand the causes, types and treatments for joint deformities in RA.
What Causes Joint Deformities in RA?
Risk factors for the development of deformities include high levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation in the body, and rheumatoid factor (RF), an antibody (a special protein made by the immune system) present in the blood of many people with RA.
Possible Joint Deformities in RA
Boutonniere deformity: The middle finger joint bends toward the palm while the outer finger joint may bend opposite the palm.
Swan-neck deformity: The base of the finger and the outermost joint bend, while the middle joint straightens.
Hitchhiker’s thumb: The thumb flexes at the metacarpophalangeal joint and hyperextends at the interphalangeal joint below your thumb nail. It is also called Z-shaped deformity of the thumb.
Claw toe deformity: The toes are either bent upward from the joints at the ball of the foot, downward at the middle joints, or downward at the top toe joints and curl under the foot.
Treating Joint Deformities in RA
Surgery: To correct more severe finger deformities, finger joint replacement surgery may be necessary. Replacing damaged finger joints with artificial ones does not cure RA, but recovers functionality of the joint. When RA affects the feet, the toes may become misshapen. If this makes walking or wearing shoes difficult, the deformities may be corrected with surgery or orthotics (such as simple cushioned insoles or custom-made cast devices). However, surgery is no longer common in people with RA, because available therapies work quite well.
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