Rheumatoid Arthritis: What Is It, How Do I Treat It, Where Do I Go?

 

Perhaps you have heard of rheumatoid arthritis but simply aren’t sure what exactly it is.

“One of the biggest questions (we get) is what is what is the difference between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis,” said CVMC Rheumatologist Leah Krull, MD.  “The main difference there is the mechanism as to what causes it.”

“Rheumatoid arthritis is more the autoimmune, inflammatory arthritis where you see deformities. Treatments for that versus the treatments for osteoarthritis, which is wear and tear, is working to suppress the immune system. With osteoarthritis, it’s activity, pain control, lots of physical therapy and occupational therapy.”

If you’re one of the 1.5 million people in the U.S. living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), your immune system is mistakenly attacking your joints—usually many of them at once.

That can make your joints painful, stiff and swollen. And it may even affect other tissue in your body, such as your eyes, lungs or heart.

Symptoms of RA may go away temporarily and then return. These steps can help you better manage RA every day:

Balance activity with rest. When your RA is active, taking breaks throughout the day can help you conserve energy and protect your joints. Still, gentle exercise is also a mainstay of treatment. Talk your doctor about an exercise program that is best for you. It should emphasize low-impact aerobics, flexibility and stretching. And if you feel pain in a new joint while exercising, stop what you’re doing.

Try hot and cold treatments. Hot treatments, such as a heating pad or a warm bath, tend to work best for soothing stiff joints. They can help you stay limber. Cold treatments, such as a wrapped bag of ice, numb nerve endings and can dull pain.

Watch the scale. If you’re overweight, extra pounds add stress to your joints. So do your best to get to—or stay at—a healthy weight.

Mind your medicine. Take any medicine your doctor suggests or prescribes exactly as directed. You might also ask your doctor about taking omega-3 fish oil supplements. Studies show they may ease pain and stiffness.

Stop smoking if you light up. Your tobacco habit can make RA worse and cause other medical problems. Ask your doctor for advice on the best way to quit for good.

Dr. Krull joined the Carson Valley Medical Center team in August of 2018. She is at the Job’s Peak Internal Medicine & Family Practice in Gardnerville one day a week and at the CVMC at Ironwood building in Minden one day a week.

Your primary care provider may be able to provide a referral to see Dr. Krull. If you do not have a primary care provider, you can call Carson Valley Medical Center’s Find-A-Doc hotline at 775-782-1545 and you will be given information on getting established with one of our 17 primary care providers serving Carson Valley.

Sources: American Academy of Family Physicians; Arthritis Foundation; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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