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Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA): Symptoms, Treatment, Types & Diagnosis

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Rheumatoid arthritis is a debilitating autoimmune disease that can cause pain, stiffness, and deformity. Left untreated, it can progress to more severe symptoms, such as heart disease and organ failure. 

If you're concerned that you or someone you know may have rheumatoid arthritis, it's essential to get tested. You can do several tests to determine whether you have the condition, and once you know for sure, you can begin the treatment process.

This blog post will discuss testing for rheumatoid arthritis and its various signs and symptoms. We will also outline the available treatment options and how to navigate the process best.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic, inflammatory condition that affects the joints. The disease can often be disabling and lead to pain and joint damage. There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but treatments include medication, surgery, and physical therapy.

Rheumatoid Arthritis - Types

There are typically three types of RA:

  • Juvenile RA typically starts before age 20 and is more common in women.
  • Adult RA usually begins after age 40 but can also occur at any age.
  • Plaque-related RA is the most common type and occurs when small deposits of inflammatory cells called plaques form in the joints.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms

The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can vary depending on which joint is affected and can range from mild to severe. 

The most common symptom of RA are:

  • Pain, which usually occurs in the joints around the hands, feet, hips, neck, or spine
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Redness
  • Loss of function in the affected joint(s)
  • Fever

Tests Used to Diagnose RA

Several different tests can be used to diagnose Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). These tests can help identify the type and severity of RA. 

Some of the most common tests used to diagnose RA include: 

X-ray: An x-ray is sometimes used to check for swelling, deformity, or damage around the joints.

Biochemical analysis: Blood samples can be taken and tested for signs of inflammation (such as high levels of cytokines).

MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a scan that uses magnets and radio waves to create pictures of the body. MRI can help identify changes in the joint cartilage, bone, and synovium (the fluid surrounding the joints).

Rheumatoid factor assay: This test measures how likely someone is to develop RA based on their antibodies against rheumatoid factor (RF). RF is a protein found in many people with RA. The higher the level of RF in a person's blood, the more likely they are to develop RA symptoms later in life.

Radiography: Radiography is sometimes used to check for damage or inflammation around the joints.

Blood test: A blood test to measure levels of the anticardiolipin antibody (ACL-Ab).

Biopsy: A biopsy to look at tissue samples for signs of RA.

MRI: An MRI scan to see if there is damage to the joints

Lab tests for RA

Lab tests are commonly used to determine if one has RA, and to monitor the disease activity. Here are 5 common lab tests used to diagnose RA: 

  • Rheumatoid Factor (RF) Test- This test measures the presence of a protein called rheumatoid factor in your blood, which is indicative of an autoimmune disorder like RA. 
  • Anti-cyclic Citrullinated Peptide (anti-CCP) Test- This test measures the presence of an antibody called anti-CCP in your blood, which is indicative of RA. 
  • C-Reactive Protein (CRP) Test- This test measures the amount of CRP in your blood, which is an indicator of inflammation in the body caused by RA. 
  • Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR) Test- This test measures the rate at which red blood cells settle in a test tube, which is indicative of inflammation caused by RA. 
  • X-Ray- An x-ray is typically used to determine if there is any visible joint damage caused by RA. 
  • Bone Scan- A bone scan is used to determine if there is any abnormal bone activity caused by RA. 

Treatment Options for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Treatment options can include medication, physical therapy, and surgery. Each option has its benefits and drawbacks. The objective is to develop a solution that works best for each individual and their unique circumstances.

The specifics are -

Medications

Medications can help reduce symptoms of the disease and may also help delay the disorder's progression. To treat rheumatoid arthritis, patients may take medications prescribed by their doctor. Medications used to treat RA include Ibuprofen, Naproxen, Doxycycline, Methotrexate, and Plaquenil.

Some people may also need anti-inflammatory drugs such as Etanercept or Infliximab. 

In addition, some people use supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate to help relieve symptoms. 

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is a common type of treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. There is some evidence that physical therapy may help alleviate the discomfort caused by arthritic problems. At the same time, physical therapies such as massage, exercise, and acupuncture can help to improve function. 

Surgery

One of the most common treatments for rheumatoid arthritis is surgery. There are a variety of surgical options available, including:

- Joint replacement: This is the most common type of surgery performed for rheumatoid arthritis. Joint replacement includes surgery to replace a damaged joint with an artificial joint. This surgery can successfully improve function and reduce pain in some cases.

- Endarterectomy: Endarterectomy is a procedure that removes the inflamed and swollen sections of the arthritic joint. This may improve symptoms and relieve pressure on other nearby organs.

- Arthroscopy: Arthroscopy is a technique that uses tiny cameras to view the arthritic joint. This can help diagnose and treat problems inside the joint.

Occupational Therapy

This therapy may help patients with RA to maintain their independence by teaching them how to do daily activities such as cooking, bathing, and dressing.

Cognitive Rehabilitation 

It helps patients with RA relearn lost functions such as reading, writing, math skills, or remembering information.

Speech Therapy

This therapy type aids in the correction of swallowing problems and communication difficulties caused by RA.

Additional treatments may include Hydrotherapy (use of cold water or ice packs on the body), Cryotherapy (freezing treatment of injured tissue), and Aromatherapy (use of fragrances to reduce inflammation).

Conclusion

If you have rheumatoid arthritis, it is important to get checked for the condition as soon as possible.

By testing for rheumatoid arthritis early, you can start treatment and improve your chances of a successful outcome. Many different tests can be used to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis, so it is important to talk to your doctor about which test would be best for you.

Treatment options vary depending on the severity of the disease, but most patients have an improved quality of life when treated early.

If you think you may have rheumatoid arthritis, it is essential to seek medical help from experts immediately.

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