Common Rheumatoid Arthritis Questions

Written by Stewart G. Eidelson, MD

Four common questions people ask about rheumatoid arthritis and it’s treatment are answered.

#1. What is rheumatoid arthritis (RA)?
Rheumatoid arthritis is the most debilitating type of arthritis because it can cause deformity and disability. It is an autoimmune disease, meaning that the body's immune system turns against itself and attacks healthy tissues. RA affects mostly the joints, and in the spine, RA usually affects the joints in the neck (cervical spine).
#2. What may trigger or cause RA?
The medical community hasn't pinpointed the exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis, although they have some leads, including:

#3. What are the non-surgical treatment options for rheumatoid arthritis?
Most patients with rheumatoid arthritis can be treated non-surgically. A treatment plan is designed to control the disease, alleviate pain, maintain function (activities of daily living), and maximize quality of life.

There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, although there are medications that can relieve symptoms and slow disease progression. You can read more about the specifics of these medications here.

A physical therapy (PT) program can help restore muscle strength, flexibility, improve mobility, coordination, and maintain body functions through exercise. Massage, hydrotherapy, and other modalities can help relieve pain.

For people with rheumatoid arthritis, it's important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This includes eating a good diet, exercising (when your body allows it), and resting. It's not that a healthy lifestyle will cure rheumatoid arthritis; rather, a healthy lifestyle will help you get through each day better and help you better deal with the effects of RA.

It is helpful to keep a medical diary noting medications that work, drug side effects, severity of symptoms, flare-ups, and remissions.

#4. Will I need surgery?
For some patients, surgery may be an option to treat cervical rheumatoid arthritis. Surgery is usually recommended for patients who have nerve problems caused by the effects of RA. For example, inflammation and changes in the joints can affect the surrounding nerves.

You can read a more in-depth explanation of possible surgeries for RA here.

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