What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a disorder that results in joint inflammation and pain. It is an autoimmune disorder, which means your body's immune system attacks the healthy cells mistaking them for foreign invaders in the body. In RA, the immune system falsely attacks the synovium, i.e. lining of the joints, resulting in inflammation and pain in the target tissue or organ.
RA is up to three times more likely to affect women than men. RA usually affects the smaller joints of hands and feet first and slowly progresses to other parts of the body. It is a progressive disease which is characterised by flareups and remissions.
RA can last for years or be lifelong. It has no permanent cure, but you can manage its symptoms if the condition is diagnosed early.

What Are the Early Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?

You may experience very subtle symptoms in the early stages of RA. Moreover, RA symptoms often mimic other inflammatory conditions such as gout, making it tough to diagnose.
RA typically involves the smaller joints of hands and feet first and often affects the same joint on both sides of the body.
Some early signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis to look out for are:
1. Joint pain and tenderness in more than one joint
2. Joint stiffness for at least 30 minutes, especially in the 3. morning or after a long period of inactivity
4. Inflammation and swelling in the joints
5. Reduced range of motion
6. Low-grade fever
7. Fatigue
8. Loss of appetite

When to See a Doctor?

If you experience discomfort and swelling in your joints for more than 6 weeks, immediately make an appointment with your doctor.

How Is Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosed?

RA is a systemic disease which can slowly affect other parts of the body as well. This makes early diagnosis of RA all the more essential.
A rheumatologist is a person who specialises in the diagnosis and treatment of arthritis. There's no single test for evaluating RA. Your doctor shall conduct a combination of tests to diagnose your condition.

General Medical History

Your doctor may physically check for the symptoms you are experiencing like joint pain, stiffness, swelling and redness. Information like pain location and the severity of symptoms is important for your doctor to correctly diagnose RA.
He will also ask you about any family history of RA or any other autoimmune condition running in the family.

Blood Tests

Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) is measured to check for inflammation in the body. ESR is the rate at which the red blood cells settle down in the test tube. The quicker they settle, the higher is the inflammation detected in the body. Not just RA, this test is also conducted to check for other inflammatory conditions.
C-reactive protein (CRP) is another blood test performed to check for inflammation in the body.
Rheumatoid factor (RF) is an antibody found in the blood of 70-80% of individuals with RA. Antibodies to the cyclic citrullinated peptide (CCP) are found in 60-70% of people with RA. However, not everyone with RA has a positive RF test.

Imaging Tests

Your doctor shall perform some imaging tests like X-rays to assess and monitor joint damage present if any.

What Are the Treatment Options for RA?

Without appropriate and timely treatment, RA can result in joint deformity and also loss of function. Early medical intervention is the key to effective treatment of RA.
There is no known permanent cure for rheumatoid arthritis. But you can manage the symptoms and further progression of the disease through some treatment options. Depending on the intensity of symptoms and the extent of RA present in your body, your treatment plan can include the following options.

Medications

1. Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) like methotrexate can slow-down the progression of rheumatoid arthritis and save the joints and other tissues from further damage.
2. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen are usually given to relieve pain and inflammation associated with RA.
3. Some drugs work as biologic agents that work on the immune system to change the body's inflammatory response.
Long term consumption of these drugs has their share of side effects. However, the side effects are outweighed by benefits.

Surgery

Doctors may suggest surgery in cases where joint damage is severe, and medication may not provide much benefit. Surgery is generally aimed at:
* Removal of synovium or RA nodules
* Repair of tendons around the joint
* Fusing the joints
* Total joint replacement
Your doctor will decide the best-suited treatment plan considering your preference and individual condition.

How Can You Manage RA Flare-Ups Through Self-Care?

Living a healthy lifestyle goes a long way in managing the discomfort associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Let's learn about some self-care measures and home remedies for RA.

Regular Stretching and Moderate Exercise

Just as rest is vital for your joints, in RA, it is equally important for you to stretch your joints and indulge in moderate exercise. This will strengthen your joints, aid in smoother movement and prevent joint stiffness. Make sure to exercise for 30 minutes, at least 4 times a week. Be careful not to strain the joints while exercising.

Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Though there's no miracle diet for RA, there are many foods that help fight inflammation and improve your symptoms. Following a diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, beans, etc. is not only great for your overall health and fitness but may also help with managing RA. However, it is best to consult your doctor first before going for any specific diet plan.

Hot and Cold Treatments

Heat treatments like a warm bath and heating pad work best to relieve stiff joints and relax muscles. Cold compress works best for easing swollen joints and reducing pain.
Sleep and Stress Management
Make sure to take a regular 8-hour sleep if you have RA. There has been some research that chronic stress can sometimes trigger RA related pain. Indulging in some yoga and meditation every day will help you stay relaxed and mindful. Massage may also help manage pain and control stress and anxiety.

The Bottom Line

It is important to watch out for RA symptoms for an early diagnosis, which is vital for effective treatment. With regular doctor consultation and self-care, you can significantly minimise the pain. Get in touch with the best orthopaedic doctor in Gurgaon at CK Birla Hospital to successfully manage RA.

Author's Bio: 

Mahima, a Software Engineer by education turns to a content writer by profession, who specializes in health, beauty, and fitness.
She loves to write about Health problems, fitness, and beauty.