Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory spine disorder and an auto-immune disease. Although RA does affect the spine it is in the peripheral joints, particularly the hands and fingers, where one sees painful and sometimes grotesque deformity. The joints can be palpably hot and swollen, with audible internal cartilage-on-cartilage clonking and chafing as they move.
Rheumatoid is an inflammatory joint disease. It is diagnosed by a raised erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) on blood test, indicating the presence of inflammatory processes inside the body. Another common blood test looks for the 'rheumatoid factor' to confirm the diagnosis.
Rheumatoid arthritis most visibly affects the hands
Some people claim to have cured their rheumatoid disease with a low-acid or anti-inflammation diet, others with a gluten-free diet. In severe cases, medication is the only way to control the pain and lead any sort of quality of life, although many of the RA drugs have unpleasant side effects.
Broadly speaking the drug options are:
NSAIDs Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Over-the-counter NSAIDs include ibuprofen (with trade names such as Naprosyn or Nurofen). Stronger NSAIDs are available by prescription (their side effects are greater - include ringing in the ears, stomach irritation, heart problems, and possible liver and kidney damage.) but aspirin is also a highly effective NSAID.
Steroids Corticosteroid medications, such as prednisone, reduce inflammation and pain and slow joint damage. Side effects may include weight gain (particularly around the girth and in the face) thinning of bones, cataracts and diabetes. They are not an ideal drug to be used long term and are often used only to relieve an acute flare-up, with a view of gradually tapering off medication over several months
Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs). These drugs can slow the progression of rheumatoid arthritis and save the joints and other tissues from permanent damage. The most common DMARD is methotrexate. Side effects vary but may include liver damage, bone marrow suppression and severe lung infections.
Immunosuppressants These medications act to tame your immune system, which is out of control in rheumatoid arthritis. Examples include azathioprine and cyclosporine but they make you more susceptible to other infection.
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