Norton Rheumatology Specialists providers have extensive training and experience treating rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Our rheumatologists are at the leading edge of new treatments for rheumatoid arthritis and work with you to develop a treatment plan that could range from therapy to medications and, in extreme cases, orthopedic surgery.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, which means your body’s immune system malfunctions and attacks the body’s own tissues, especially the lining of your joints. The result is painful swelling that eventually can result in bone erosion and joint deformity.
Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis can affect the whole body. Part of an effective treatment plan means working with specialists in orthopedics, heart and vascular, gastroenterology, and more who are part of Norton Healthcare’s comprehensive system.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms
- Tender, warm or swollen joints
- Joint stiffness that is usually worse in the mornings and after inactivity
- Fatigue, fever and loss of appetite
Early rheumatoid arthritis tends to affect smaller joints first — like those in your hands and feet. Symptoms may spread to the wrists, knees, ankles, elbows, hips and shoulders. In most cases, symptoms occur in the same joints on both sides of your body.
About 40% of the people who have rheumatoid arthritis also experience signs and symptoms that don’t involve the joints.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Causes
Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when your immune system attacks your body. Specifically, it targets the lining of the membranes surrounding the joints. The lining thickens, which eventually can destroy the cartilage and bone within the joint.
Gradually, the tendons and ligaments that hold the joint together weaken and stretch. Eventually, the joint loses its shape and alignment.
Doctors don’t know what starts this process, although it seems a genetic component is likely. If you have a family history of RA you may be at greater risk of developing the disease. And you may be more susceptible to environmental factors that trigger RA.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment
Your Norton Healthcare rheumatologist will work with you to develop a customized plan to manage your symptoms and seek out a course to remission. Our rheumatologists stay at the forefront of treatment developments and will work with you to identify the most effective course of action while being mindful of potential side effects.
Symptom remission is more likely when treatment starts early with disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs).
DMARDs can slow the disease’s progress, sparing permanent damage to joints and other tissues. Hydroxychloroquine, leflunomide, methotrexate and sulfasalazine are among the more commonly used DMARDs.
Newer medications — biologic response modifiers — are also DMARDs and include adalimumab (Humira), etanercept (Enbrel), infliximab (Remicade) and rituximab (Rituxan). Biologic response modifiers can target the source of inflammation.
Steroids such as prednisone and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are also used to ease pain and slow joint damage.
For cases that are resistant to drugs and therapy, surgery may be an option. Procedures include joint replacement, surgical removal of the lining of the joint and repair of ruptured tendons.