Fremont Area Medical Center

SUM 2013

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J O I N T H E A L T H (continued from page 17) RISK FACTORS While doctors do not yet know the cause of rheumatoid arthritis, several studies suggest that genetic factors play a role in the disease. Certain genes associated with the immune system may increase the chances for developing RA, according to researchers. And studies point to certain bacteria and viruses, combined with other factors such as female hormones, that may contribute to developing RA. Smoking may increase your chances for developing the disease. In fact, people with specific genes who also smoke may experience more prevalent RA symptoms and find that treatments aren't as effective. Blood tests can also help properly diagnose RA. People who have rheumatoid arthritis often have rheumatoid factor and/or anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide—or anti-CCP—antibodies, as well as elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate, or ESR. "It's important to note that these blood tests are highly suggestive but not positive in everyone with the disease," explains Dr. Patience White, vice president for public health at the Arthritis Foundation. "[But] if you do test positive for anti-CCP, you're more likely to have a severe course of the disease. High platelet counts are also an indicator of a severe course of the disease." If RA is suspected, your physician may also order X-rays to determine how far the disease has progressed. TREATMENT TACTICS While RA cannot be cured, several treatment options can help ease symptoms. Nonsteroidal inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen, for example, can help to reduce pain and swelling, and analgesics such as acetaminophen can also be helpful. Among prescription-strength medications, steroids such as prednisone can alleviate some of the rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. In some cases a physi- MAKING A DIAGNOSIS Your physician may be able to make a preliminary diagnosis of RA by checking for joint swelling, excessive warmth of the joints, muscle strength and reflexes. Another telltale sign of RA is the presence of tissue lumps, or nodules, which occur in approximately one quarter of people with the disease. '' cian may recommend corticosteroids, but these are typically not given more than two to four times a year. Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, or DMARDs, can also help by slowing the progression of RA. Popular DMARDs such as methotrexate, sulfasalazine, hydroxychloroquine and minocycline can reduce the severity of disease symptoms but also can have serious side effects. Other DMARDs include newer biologic drugs such as tofacitinib. Therapy is another treatment option, such as physical therapy that includes exercises aimed at easing pain by keeping joints flexible. "We begin to lose mobility when not moving our joints because of the pain we're experiencing," says Dr. White. "Occupational therapy, when done in conjunction with drug therapies, can help increase ease of function for everyday tasks such as brushing teeth or chopping vegetables." Studies have also shown that some alternative therapies can help, such as yoga, tai chi, acupuncture and meditation. "Advances in treating RA continue to be identified," adds Dr. Soares. "The best defense is early diagnosis and promptly starting the appropriate therapy." • The best defense is early diagnosis and promptly starting the appropriate therapy. 24 SPI RIT O F WOM EN S U M M E R 2 013 w w w. s p i r i t o f w o m e n . c o m SHUTTERSTOCK '' ~ Dr. Surayya Soares

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