Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease in which the lining of the joints become inflamed, causing pain, swelling and stiffness. It is an ‘autoimmune disease’ because it occurs when our immune system, which normally fights against infection, starts destroying healthy joints. Severe rheumatoid arthritis can be very painful and even deform or change a joint. It also affects a person's ability to perform routine activities.
The exact cause for rheumatoid arthritis is unknown and there is no definitive cure. However, a good understanding of the disease helps to better manage the disease by relieving the pain and other symptoms, and retarding the progression of the disease. Early diagnosis and treatment is important to minimize damage to the joints.
Management of rheumatoid arthritis
Several treatment modalities are available for the management of rheumatoid arthritis including medications, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and surgery.
- Medications: There are different types of medications which include disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs)-methotrexate, infusion and injection biologic agents; pain medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)-aspirin, ibuprofen, and COX-2 inhibitors. The DMARDs reduce the body’s immune response against the joints whereas the NSAIDs reduce swelling and pain.
- Physical Therapy: Physical therapy exercises should be done regularly to increase the strength of the muscles and flexibility of the joints. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is a type of electrotherapy that is given to provide pain relief.
- Occupational Therapy: Occupational therapy helps patients to perform daily activities at home and at work independently through the use of equipment. It also helps you adapt to your condition using relaxation and stress-management techniques.
- Surgery: Surgical treatment is considered if you have severe rheumatoid arthritis and your symptoms do not get better with the conservative treatments. The benefits of surgery are pain relief and improvement in joint function.