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What is rheumatoid arthritis? — Rheumatoid arthritis ("RA") is a disease that causes pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints.
RA is one of many different types of arthritis. Doctors do not know what causes it. But they do know that it happens when the body's infection-fighting system, called the immune system, "attacks" the joints.
How can I tell whether I have RA or another type of arthritis? — You cannot tell. Only a doctor or nurse can tell you that. But there are some clues to look for. For example:
●People with RA have joint stiffness for the first few hours of the day, but this gets better in the afternoon. Other types of arthritis tend to make people feel stiff all day, or more toward the end of the day.
●RA usually starts by affecting the small joints in the fingers (picture 1), the balls of the feet, and the wrists. It usually affects both the left and the right side at the same time. Other types of arthritis tend to first affect larger joints, like the knees or hips. And they might affect 1 side much more than the other.
What happens as RA gets worse? — Even though it might start in the fingers and toes, RA can affect any of the joints. Sometimes, it damages the joints forever. RA can also cause problems in other parts of the body, such as the heart, lungs, or eyes. Doctors and nurses have no way of knowing which people will get which symptoms or how bad the symptoms will get.
If your doctor or nurse tells you that you have RA, start treatment right away. Do not wait until your symptoms get worse. Getting treated early can help prevent a lot of the damage the disease can do to your body.
What are the treatments for RA? — It is best to start treatment as soon as possible after learning that you have RA.
There are dozens of medicines for RA. The right one for you will depend on:
●How bad your symptoms are
●How many of your joints are affected
●How your disease has changed over time
●What side effects you get with the medicines you try
●What your X-rays look like
●The results of certain blood tests
In general, the treatment options include:
●Medicines called nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs ("NSAIDs")
●Medicines called steroids
●Medicines called disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs ("DMARDs")
People who have severe pain that does not get better with the medicines above sometimes get stronger pain medicines, called "opioids." But this is not usually necessary. Also, unlike the other medicines used for RA, opioids do not help with inflammation or joint damage.
Is there anything I can do on my own to feel better? — Yes. You can:
●Stay active – This is very important. You might want to avoid physical activity because you are in pain. But that can make things worse. It will make your muscles weak and your joints stiffer than they already are.
A physical therapist (exercise expert) can help you figure out which types of activity are best for you. An occupational therapist can help you figure out how to keep doing your normal everyday tasks, even with arthritis.
●Eat a healthy diet – People with RA are at risk for heart disease, so avoid fatty foods. Instead, eats lots of fruits and vegetables.
What if I want to get pregnant? — If you want to get pregnant, talk to your doctor or nurse before you start trying. Some of the medicines used to treat RA are not safe for a developing fetus, so you might need to switch medicines before you get pregnant. There are also things that you should do to help prevent problems during pregnancy.
The symptoms of RA often get a lot better during pregnancy. But they can get worse again after giving birth.
Patient education: Nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (The Basics)
Patient education: Oral steroid medicines (The Basics)
Patient education: Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) (The Basics)
Patient education: Rheumatoid arthritis and pregnancy (The Basics)
Patient education: Opioid medicines for short-term treatment of pain (The Basics)
Patient education: Hand pain (The Basics)
Patient education: Osteoarthritis (The Basics)
Patient education: Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and diagnosis (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Rheumatoid arthritis treatment (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) in rheumatoid arthritis (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Rheumatoid arthritis and pregnancy (Beyond the Basics)
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