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Pain Management and Rheumatoid Arthritis

How Does Rheumatoid Arthritis Affect the Body?

Once the immune system -- the disease fighting center of the body -- is triggered, immune cells migrate from the blood into the joints and produce substances that cause inflammation. The increased number of cells and inflammatory substances within the joint irritate the area and cause cartilage (cushioning material at the end of bones) to wear down and the joint lining (synovium) to swell and produce fluid.

As the cartilage wears down, the space between the bones narrows. If the condition worsens, the bones could rub against each other, causing significant pain.

As the swelling and inflammation worsens, the joint lining may invade or erode into the bone, resulting in irreversible damage to the bone. All of these factors cause the joint to become very painful, swollen, and warm to the touch.

How Is Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis is based on a combination of factors, including:

  • The specific location and symmetry of painful joints
  • The presence of joint stiffness in the morning
  • Presence of bumps and nodules under the skin (rheumatoid nodules)
  • Results of X-ray tests that suggest rheumatoid arthritis
  • Positive results of blood tests called the rheumatoid factor and the anti-CCP antibody

Most, but not all, people with rheumatoid arthritis have one or both antibodies in their blood. The rheumatoid factor may be present in people who do not have rheumatoid arthritis. Other diseases also can cause the rheumatoid factor to be produced in the blood. Therefore, the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis is based on a combination of several factors and not just the presence of the rheumatoid factor in the blood.

People with RA may have a mild anemia. Blood tests may also reveal an elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), a marker of inflammation.

How Is Rheumatoid Arthritis Treated?

There are many different 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 factors including the person's age, overall health, medical history, and severity of the arthritis.

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