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What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?


How Is Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosed? continued...

Most, but not all, people with rheumatoid arthritis have the rheumatoid-factor (RF) antibody in their blood. Rheumatoid factor may sometimes be present in people who do not have rheumatoid arthritis. Therefore, the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis is based on a combination of joint problems, as well as test results.

A newer, more specific blood test for rheumatoid arthritis is the cylic citrulline antibody test, also called anti-CCP. The presence of anti-CCP antibodies suggests a tendency toward a more aggressive form of rheumatoid arthritis.

People with rheumatoid arthritis may have mild anemia. Blood tests may also show an elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) or elevated C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, which are signs of inflammation.

Some people with rheumatoid arthritis may also have a positive antinuclear antibody test (ANA), which indicates an autoimmune disease.  But the test cannot tell which autoimmune disease.


How Is Rheumatoid Arthritis Treated?

There are many ways to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Treatments include medications, rest and exercise, and surgery to correct damage to the joint.

The type of treatment will depend on several things, including the person's age, overall health, medical history, and severity of the arthritis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Medications

There are many rheumatoid arthritis medications available to lower joint pain, swelling, and inflammation. Some of these drugs prevent or slow the progression of the disease.

Drugs that offer relief of arthritis symptoms (joint pain, stiffness, and swelling) include:

  • Anti-inflammatory painkillers, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen
  • Topical (applied directly to the skin) pain relievers
  • Corticosteroids, such as prednisone
  • Narcotic pain relievers

There are also many strong medications called disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), which work by interfering with or suppressing the immune system's attack on the joints. They include:

  • Plaquenil (originally used to treat malaria)
  • Immune suppression drugs, such as methotrexate, Imuran, and Cytoxan
  • Biologic treatments, such as Actemra, Cimzia, Kineret, Simponi, Enbrel, Humira, Remicade, Orencia, and Rituxan
  • Other drugs, such as Azulfidine, Arava, and Xeljanz

Why Are Rest and Exercise Important for Rheumatoid Arthritis?

A balance of rest and exercise is important in treating rheumatoid arthritis. During flare-ups, when joint inflammation gets worse, it is best to rest the joints. Using a cane or joint splints can help during flare-ups.

When joint inflammation gets better, exercise is necessary to keep joints flexible and to strengthen the muscles that surround the joints. doing range-of-motion exercises will help keep joints healthy.

When Is Surgery Necessary for Rheumatoid Arthritis?

When joint damage from the rheumatoid arthritis has become severe or pain is not controlled with drugs, surgery may help.

Can Rheumatoid Arthritis Be Cured?

Although there isn't a cure for rheumatoid arthritis, early, aggressive treatment has been shown to help prevent disability.


WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on April 30, 2012
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