Rheumatoid arthritis (“RA”) is an autoimmune disorder that attacks the membranes lining the joints and causes chronic inflammation, pain, stiffness, and swelling. Over time, this can lead to the gradual deterioration of the bones and joints. In severe cases, RA can affect the blood vessels, eyes, skin, lungs, and heart.
RA is the most common type of autoimmune arthritis and affects 1.3 million Americans. While severe cases are disabling, recent strides in medical advances have reduced the severity of RA and stops the progression of the disease.
Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
Common symptoms are listed below and vary in severity:
- Joint pain, stiffness, swelling
- Decreased movement in joints
- Joint stiffness more present in the mornings
- Lack of energy
- Minor fevers
- Appetite loss
- Firm lumps around the elbows and hands – rheumatoid nodules
- Dry eyes and mouth
RA can also target organs like the heart and lungs, the eyes, and the skin causing chest pain, shortness of breath, rashes, and other signs of inflammation.
Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis
If you are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, it is important to start treatment right away to stop the progression of the joint damage. Early detection and early treatment are key!
There are a variety of medicines used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. The appropriate medication depends on:
- The severity of your symptoms
- How many of your joints are affected
- How your disease has changed over time
- What side effects you experience
- The results of certain blood tests and Xrays
Once diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, doctors will prescribe medications called “disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs,” also known as “DMARDs” which help stop/slow the progression of the damage to your joints caused by inflammation. DMARDs are medicines that partly turn off, or suppress, the body’s immune system.
Learn More About Rheumatoid Arthritis
Frequently Asked Questions
What causes rheumatoid arthritis?
A healthy immune system targets abnormal cells, bacteria, and viruses in the body. In rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system targets the healthy tissues surrounding joints, which causes chronic inflammation. Since the membrane lining is chronically inflamed, it causes irreversible damage to joints and bones. The inflammation of the tissue, combined with the deterioration of the joints is very painful and debilitating.
There is no specific cause of rheumatoid arthritis, and the triggers are often unknown. There are specific risk factors, however, that increase a person’s risk of developing RA such as a family history of the disease or prior exposure to asbestos or silica. RA most commonly appears in women between the ages of 30 and 50.
How can I tell whether I have rheumatoid arthritis or another type of arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis usually affects the small joints in the fingers, the balls of the feet, and the wrists, and usually affects both the left and the right side at the same time.
Other types of arthritis, like osteoarthritis, tend to first affect larger joints, like the knees or hips, and one side much more than the other. Symptoms typically last for longer than 6 weeks. RA joints are generally redder and swollen, and symptoms develop more quickly than osteoarthritis.
What complications are associated with rheumatoid arthritis?
Since the disease may spread to other parts of the body, RA can cause further complications. Having RA can increase a patient’s likelihood of developing:
- Dry eyes and mouth
- Weakened immune system
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Physical deformity of the joints
- Rheumatoid nodules
- Heart disease
- Lung disease
- Lymphoma, a group of cancers that affect the lymphoid
- Osteoporosis, a disease that weakens the bones
What will my life look like with rheumatoid arthritis?
Once diagnosed with RA, it is very important to stay active. Individuals with RA tend to limit their activity due to pain, but inactivity can actually make the symptoms worse. Light, low-impact exercises like walking and swimming loosen the joints, decreasing pain, swelling, and stiffness.
A healthy diet is key in the overall treatment plan for RA. Due to increased inflammation, individuals with rheumatoid arthritis are at increased risk for heart disease. A low-inflammatory diet can include limited dairy, processed foods, alcohol, caffeine, and red meats.
Fortunately, recent developments in treatment have allowed for significantly better outcomes for individuals with RA, which makes the disease less debilitating.
Dr. Brionez of Advanced Rheumatology of Houston is board certified in both Internal Medicine and Rheumatology and has been in private practice for more than ten years.
Dr. Tamar Brionez
About Our Doctor
Dr. Brionez has more than 10 years of experience in diagnosing and treating rheumatic musculoskeletal disease and systemic autoimmune conditions. She has a Bachelor of Science in Nutritional Sciences from Texas A&M University and completed her Doctor of Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. Additionally, she completed her Fellowship in Rheumatology at the University of Texas-Health Science Center. Dr. Brionez is board certified in both Internal Medicine and Rheumatology and has been in private practice since 2009.
Dr. Brionez is known for her dedication to her patients and her ability to diagnose complex conditions. She adheres to the highest standards of medical care while relying on cutting-edge technology and the most up-to-date medical research. Dr. Brionez has adopted a holistic view of her patients’ health and is considered a leading specialist in managing complex autoimmune disorders including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, scleroderma, osteoporosis, and many others. She is fluent in Spanish and is dedicated to hiring diverse staff to best meet her patients’ needs.