Monday, January 11, 2010

A Closer Look at Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic disease that causes stiffness, pain, inflammation and limited movement of multiple joints. It is the most common form of arthritis triggered by the immune system. Nandini Chhitwal, M.D., rheumatologist with Fauquier Health, says that although there is no cure for RA, the goal of treatment is to minimize symptoms and disability by introducing appropriate medical therapy as soon as possible, before the joints are permanently damaged. Successful management of RA requires early diagnosis and, at times, aggressive treatment.

Variety of Medications
Several types of medication are available for rheumatoid arthritis. Some treat only the pain; others relieve both pain and inflammation.

● Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (including aspirin, Advil, Motrin IB and Aleve) relieve both pain and inflammation.

● Corticosteroids like prednisone, cortisone, hydrocortisone and methylprednisolone reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system. Some forms may be injected into the affected joints to temporarily relieve pain.

● Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs may take months to show results, so they are not used for pain relief. However, they slow the progression of the disease and prevent joint deformity.

● Biologic response modifier drugs also slow the progression of the disease and prevent joint deformity. They can be injected or given intravenously.

Other Treatments
Anyone with RA needs to balance rest and exercise, resting when the disease is active and exercising when it is not. Rest helps reduce joint inflammation and pain, and fights fatigue. Exercise helps maintain muscle strength, preserves joint mobility and maintains flexibility.

Surgery is another option for treating arthritis. It can remove loose pieces of bone and cartilage, smooth bone surfaces, reposition bones or replace joints. Artificial joints can last more than 20 years, so patients and their doctors must determine the right timing for surgery.

Dr. Chhitwal will present a lecture on "Living with Rheumatoid Athrritis" on January 20 at 7 p.m. in the Fauquier Hospital Sycamore rooms. Call 540-316-3588 to register.

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