News Center

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Tailored treatment effective in treating rheumatoid arthritis

INDIANAPOLIS – The immune system is best known as a built-in defense mechanism – it helps protect the body against foreign invaders that cause disease.

But sometimes the immune system doesn’t work like it should, and it actually attacks the body. Such is the case with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Painful joints and more RA is a chronic disease that can cause symptoms most of the time or remain mild except for periods of worsening symptoms called flares.

“Symptoms usually start in the smaller joints of both hands, including fingers and wrists,”

said Heather Greist, M.D., rheumatologist with St. Francis Medical Group Rheumatology & Osteoporosis Specialists. “It also can affect other joints, including the shoulders, elbows, knees and feet.”

Advanced RA can damage cartilage, bone, and even the muscles, ligaments and tendons that support the joint. In addition to warmth, swelling and tenderness in these joints, symptoms may include:

  • Morning stiffness or pain after prolonged sitting
  • Fatigue, weakness or muscle pain
  • Flu-like symptoms, including low-grade fever
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss
  • Dry eyes and mouth

Although anyone can get RA, it usually begins between ages 30 and 50, and about two to three times as many women as men have it.

There is no single test for RA, Greist said, so doctors use a variety of tools to diagnose the disease. A physician may combine tests, such as X-rays and blood tests, with a physical examination. Patients’ medical histories and description of their symptoms are also important.

Treatment is tailored to each individual. Many people are prescribed medicines, such as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs to help prevent joint damage. A doctor also may suggest:

  • Medications for pain relief, such as aspirin or acetaminophen, and corticosteroids to relieve inflammation.
  • Balanced rest and exercise. Moderate physical activity can help keep joints flexible, and adequate rest may help reduce symptoms during flares.
  • Surgery for some people with severe joint damage.

RA can cause stress, which can make symptoms worse. For some people, staying active helps relieve stress. An exercise program or support group may help control symptoms.

To learn more about St. Francis Medical Group Rheumatology & Osteoporosis Specialists go to