How to Treat / Cure Rheumatoid Arthritis
Many Treatments—But Currently No Cure
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune and inflammatory disorder that occurs when your immune system attacks the tissues in your body. This disorder affects your joint linings, leading to joint problems in your hands and feet. The condition can also cause fatigue and fever.
RA is a chronic condition for which there is currently no cure. Fortunately, a variety of treatments can help control symptoms and prevent damage to the joints. Click through the slideshow to learn more about common treatments for RA and possible progress toward finding a cure.
While medications may be the first thing to come to mind when you think of treatment, the Mayo Clinic reports that many RA drugs can have serious side effects that can affect your immune system. Taking steps to manage your symptoms through lifestyle changes can be an important first step—and one worth continuing throughout your treatment.
- strengthen bones and muscles
- decrease fatigue
- increase stamina and flexibility
- improve well-being
Other Self-Care Treatments
In addition to exercise, applying cold or heat to the affected joints and muscles can help manage the pain of RA. Cold has a numbing effect that can dull pain sensations and decrease muscle spasms, while heat can help by relaxing tense muscles.
The Mayo Clinic recommends these additional forms of relaxation to help ease pain:
- muscle relaxation
- deep breathing
- guided imagery
Another way to manage RA is through physical or occupational therapy. A therapist may be able to teach you how to keep your joints more flexible by using:
- exercises targeted at reducing the stress on specific joints
- assistive devices such as walking aids
- specially designed kitchen tools to make gripping easier
A physical therapist may also instruct you in how to make your daily tasks easier. For example, you might try picking up objects using the muscles in your forearms rather than your fingers.
Three main classes of drugs are generally used to treat RA. They include:
- NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents)
- DMARDs (disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs)
The primary difference is that DMARDs are used to slow the progression of the disease, while NSAIDs are used to decrease the inflammatory response and the pain of inflammation.
A number of over-the-counter NSAIDs can be used to treat RA pain and reduce inflammation, including ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin. Stronger prescription NSAIDs are also available; that said, no NSAID can prevent joint damage or change the course of RA.
Corticosteroids like prednisone are sometimes given initially to relieve pain and slow joint damage. However, most doctors have a goal of gradually weaning patients off corticosteroids because of serious side effects such as cataracts and diabetes.
The Big Guns
DMARDs are the one class of medicine with the ability to slow RA’s progression and save tissues and joints from being damaged permanently. However, DMARDs are also associated with the most serious side effects, including liver damage, bone marrow suppression, and lung infections. They must be used with caution only under the direction of your doctor.
Some DMARDs include:
Will There Be a Cure?
As a chronic disease, RA currently can’t be cured. In fact, according to the Arthritis Foundation, researchers have yet to discover the cause of RA. The Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center notes that over the past few years, new classes of drugs available have greatly improved the outcomes of patients with the disease. Scientists are currently investigating both environmental and genetic factors in hopes of finding the elusive cure.
Progress and Possibility
You can decrease the pain and discomfort of RA through a combination of medical, therapeutic, and lifestyle treatments. The Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center describes the goal of treatment as threefold:
- minimizing joint damage
- achieving the lowest level of disease activity
- increasing quality of life and physical function
By educating yourself about treatment options and working closely with your doctor, you can influence the course of your condition.