What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease of unknown origin characterized by deep, aching joint pain and inflammation. Wrists, fingers, knees, feet and ankles are the joints most often affected by rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis usually has an equal impact on both sides of the body.
Signs and Symptoms
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms can vary widely from patient to patient. Periods of dormancy (remission) often alternate with times when the disease is active and symptoms are prevalent. These symptoms include:
- Deep joint aches
- Swelling, stiffness and limited movement
- Fatigue and lack of appetite
- Low fevers
Autoimmune diseases occur when the body's natural, disease-fighting systems misinterpret signals and attack healthy cells. Causes for rheumatoid arthritis are not known.
No cure currently exists for rheumatoid arthritis. The goals of treating rheumatoid arthritis are to relieve pain, increase normal movement and prevent joint destruction. A combination of physical therapy, occupational therapy and medications are often prescribed.
- Physical and occupational therapy: Physical and occupational therapy incorporates programs to loosen joints, reduce pain, increase movement, provide education and training in joint protection, activity modification, proper body mechanics and identify environmental barriers to health.
- Medication: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that reduce pain and swelling, including aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen, treat the common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) work to prevent joint destruction.