Illustration of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) bone loss

The Facts on RA

Good days — get ready to enjoy many more of them! With today’s treatments, it’s possible to feel more limber, energetic and independent than ever. That’s welcome news if you’re still struggling with the pain, fatigue and frustration of uncontrolled rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In fact, one of the hardest aspects of living with an autoimmune disease like RA is the unpredictability — you can feel fine one day only to wake up stiff and sore the next. Being honest with your rheumatologist about how you’re feeling and what activities are difficult is the first step to finding maximum relief.

What is it?
When you have RA, your immune system — which normally fights invaders — becomes overactive and starts attacking the tissue that lines the joints, called the synovium. This inflames the area, causing the synovium to swell and push into the joint capsule.

However, pain isn’t the only result: The inflamed synovium releases inflammatory chemicals that can eat away at the bone and cause permanent joint damage. Plus, RA causes inflammation throughout the body, which can affect organs like the heart, lungs and eyes.

How to get relief
Because RA is the type of disease that progresses differently in different people, there’s no single treatment plan that works for everyone. In addition, RA can change over time, affecting your body in new ways. So keep in mind that no matter what treatment you’re receiving now, your regimen may have to be adjusted later to keep your symptoms controlled and stave off complications, says rheumatologist David Mandel, MD, of Mayfield Village and Chardon, OH. “Having RA that’s not well controlled raises your risk of not only permanent joint damage but also heart disease,” he notes. Your rheumatologist relies on regular exams, blood tests and your feedback to gauge how well your treatment plan is working.

Finally, keep a positive attitude and expect the best. With the latest advancements, the goal of rheumatoid arthritis treatment is putting the disease into remission, which means you’re relatively free of symptoms and have no signs of “silent” joint damage. And that is achievable, assures Dr. Mandel. “Before newer RA medications were available, it was very frustrating. Now, the management of RA has dramatically changed, allowing patients to lead fuller, happier lives.” The bottom line: Partner with your rheumatologist to find a therapy that works for you!