Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that affects the joints. In some people, the immune system starts to see molecules and cells in the body as ‘foreign’ rather than ‘self’, and attacks them as if they were an invading bacteria or parasite. We do not yet understand exactly why or how this happens and although rheumatoid arthritis treatment has really advanced in the last few years, this is a chronic condition that must be managed rather than an illness that can be cured.
A wide range of rheumatoid arthritis treatments are now available, some of which help control symptoms such as joint swelling and pain, and others, known as disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDS), that are able to slow the underlying disease process. Disease modifying rheumatoid arthritis treatments can provide months or even years of remission from symptoms but they do need to be taken for several weeks before they take effect.
This article on rheumatoid arthritis treatment is by Kathryn Senior, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.
Rheumatoid arthritis treatment and symptom control
When you are first diagnosed, rheumatoid arthritis treatment will probably start with symptom control. This can help you to feel better while the medical team looking after you work with you to make decisions about long-term therapy. Even when this is started, you will probably need non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and/or steroids to control the inflammation in your joints in the early weeks because of the time lag before DMARD treatment starts to work.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) have a double action when used as a rheumatoid arthritis treatment. They have an analgesic effect – they reduce pain – and they damp down inflammation. Years ago, aspirin was the most common NSAIDS but this produces problems, particularly with the stomach, and it is more usual today to take ibuprofen or naproxen. Other forms of NSAIDS are also available on prescription for rheumatoid arthritis treatment but are not available over the counter at the chemist.
Corticosteroids also reduce inflammation but they have no effect on pain. Prednisone is often used as a rheumatoid arthritis treatment and can be taken in tablet form to reduce inflammation generally, or can be injected directly into a joint that is particularly swollen and painful.