Of all the dozens of types of arthritis out there, rheumatoid arthritis—or RA—is one of the most feared. Unlike osteoarthritis, in which joint pain is caused by physical damage to cartilage after years of wear and tear, RA is an inflammatory disease that not only causes pain but can eventually result in severe joint deformity, as well as affecting other systems.
While unfortunately there is still no known cure for RA, modern treatments can help significantly reduce painful symptoms and slow progression of the disease (or stop it entirely).
When Your Body Attacks Its Own Joints
Rheumatoid arthritis is fundamentally caused by a disorder of your autoimmune system, ordinarily responsible for fighting foreign pathogens like germs and viruses. Your body mistakenly identifies your own tissues, including the lining in your joints, as an enemy and attacks it.
This friendly fire can produce a wide range of symptoms and vary quite a bit in severity level. The most typical problems are chronic pain, swelling, and reduction of range of motion in the joints. In time, this may erode the bones that make up the joint and cause it to become deformed or misaligned. Stiffness is often worse early in the morning.
Smaller joints are usually the first ones affected—often fingers and toes. However, larger joints (such as ankles and wrists, and eventually even hips and shoulders) may suffer as the disease progresses.
RA doesn’t always just affect the joints, either. Other associated problems include chronic fatigue and feverish symptoms. Severe case can damage blood vessels, eyes, lungs, heart, kidneys, nerves, and other systems.
Managing Your Symptoms
As we said, we don’t have a cure for RA yet. The goal of treatment is slow progression of damage and minimize symptoms so that you can be as mobile, healthy, and free from pain as possible. The good news is that there’s a lot that a podiatrist like Harvey Danciger can do to help you.
Modern RA treatment usually involves prescription disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, or DMARDs, as well as more conventional painkillers. For many, this combination of treatments can dramatically improve your quality of life by slowing disease progression and keeping pain, fever, and other associated problems in check. More severe cases may need additional medicines.
Further therapies can help you manage symptoms, improve function, or adapt to physical changes so that you can still accomplish daily tasks. Laser therapy is a great way to reduce inflammation and pain, and we may recommend physical or occupational therapy to help you regain joint function and/or provide assistive technologies.
In severe cases where conservative treatments prove unsuccessful, surgery may become a consideration. Procedures may include tendon repair, joint lining removal, joint fusion, or joint replacement.
The best advice is to seek help as soon as you notice something is wrong—don’t wait for the pain to become intense or for joints to drift out of alignment before seeking medical therapy. Intervention in the earliest stages, before the damage becomes extensive, leads to much better outcomes.
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Danciger to find out how he can help you with your foot and ankle RA, please give us a call at 760-568-0108. You can also fill out the online appointment request form and our office will get in touch with you shortly.