Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is one of the most common chronic inflammatory diseases in the world. In this condition (about 1-2% of the general population), small and medium joints of the body (especially hands and feet) swell up and become painful.
Patients tend to get morning stiffness in their joints and body which can last for several hours and, often, all day.
The stiffness can be quite debilitating and can cause loss of function and income.
Contrary to what most people believe, RA is not just limited to the joints.
The ‘outside joint’ (extra-articular) manifestations of RA include development of skin nodules, lung and heart inflammation, coronary artery disease with significantly increased risk of heart attacks, and strokes.
Like most long term inflammatory conditions, RA can significantly increase risk of various cancers and RA patients should be monitored carefully with age appropriate cancer screening.
RA in the Spine and Surgeries:
A highly important point about RA is it can involve the cervical spine. Rheumatologists are trained to ask RA patients to get neck X-rays before any elective surgery because of spinal compromise risk during the operation. This is sometimes omitted in RA counseling and should always occur.
Importance of Treatment:
If left untreated, RA can erode into and destroy joints irreversibly. The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) guidelines recommend early treatment to halt the disease process via a Treat-To-Target approach. Target here is complete disease remission.
There are many highly effective, low-risk treatments for RA which can easily curb the disease and can be initiated as early as the first visit to a rheumatologist.