Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Between the ages of 30 and 50, eight times as many women as men develop this crippling form of arthritis. Although we don't know why it develops, researchers suspect that victims have a genetic predisposition.

Unlike Osteo Arthritis, RA symptoms are more pronounced in the morning -- the joints and muscles tend to stiffen up overnight as you sleep. RA patients may develop swelling in the joints; and this may lead to deformities and, ultimately, total immobility. RA patients may also develop such related symptoms as fever, fatigue, and loss of appetite.

Drug treatment of RA begins with the same types of medications used for OA: aspirin, Celebrex, NSAIDs, and, occasionally, steroids. If these drugs fail to control joint inflammation, other, more potent medications are prescribed. Although we don't know why, an antimalarial drug called hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) is known to reduce RA inflammation. While the drug seems to work well, it has potentially serious side effects that can cause vision problems, so careful monitoring by your physician and eye doctor is important. Gold salts, injected on a weekly or biweekly basis, or taken orally once or twice a day can reduce joint inflammation, but, again, serious side effects make them impractical for many patients. Another drug -- penicillamine (Depen or Cuprimine) -- works much like gold salts in reducing symptoms and retarding disease in severe cases of RA, and may cause fewer side effects.

Researchers today are exploring the role that immunosuppressive drugs can play in the treatment of RA. Azathioprine (Imuran) and cyclosporine (Neoral) are approved for use in RA cases. Methotrexate (Rheumatrex) is now frequently prescribed as well. These drugs are extremely potent and are usually reserved for very serious cases where all else has failed. However, two newer drugs that also work through the immune system may help a larger group of patients. One, called leflunomide (Arava), not only relieves the symptoms of RA but also staves off the joint damage that accompanies the disease. The other, a genetically engineered drug called etanercept (Enbrel), works on just one element of the immune system, the naturally occurring protein called tumor necrosis factor (TNF). By blocking the inflammatory effects of TNF, Enbrel provides significant relief to a majority of patients with moderate to severe RA.

Like other forms of arthritis, RA should be treated by both medication and physical therapy, which can help restore some of the lost joint function. Surgical procedures such as hip and knee replacements have enabled many patients to return to a more fully functional lifestyle.

Thank you Vicki Potter who donated in honor of her Mom - Mary Ann Bader

Thank you Lilly Perez who donated in honor of her Mom - Elida Vargas

Make a donation in honor of someone you know who may have one of the many forms of arthritis.

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