Rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease, is the most common form of inflammatory arthritis, affecting more than 1 million Americans. It happens when your immune system attacks the linings in your joints, causing pain, swelling and stiffness, usually in your hands, wrists, feet and knees.
Studies show that people who seek treatment early, especially within six months of experiencing symptoms, are more likely to prevent joint damage and lead more active lives. Since rheumatoid arthritis can often look like other diseases, it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis from a rheumatologist. A subspecialty of internal medicine, rheumatology focuses on identifying and treating problems affecting joints, as well as connective and soft tissues.
During your first visit, your rheumatologist reviews your health history and conducts a physical exam to confirm your diagnosis. To rule out other potential causes of your symptoms, she or he may also conduct diagnostic tests, such as blood work, X-rays, and ultrasounds.
Since there is no cure, rheumatoid arthritis care often becomes chronic disease management. But medical advances have helped doctors stop or slow down the progression of joint damage. In the Sutter Health network, we develop a team of primary care doctors, rheumatologists, nutritionists, and physical and occupational therapists, to create an effective treatment plan and help you manage your health long term. If needed, you receive regular check-ups and monitoring to ensure the effectiveness of your treatment. When medication is part of your arthritis treatment, we also develop a medication schedule that works for you.
Sutter care centers offer a wide range of medications that can greatly improve autoimmune conditions. These include:
- Simple Pain Management — This can include acetaminophen and anti-inflammatory medicine, such as ibuprofen or naproxen. We can guide you as to the appropriateness of anti-inflammatory treatment, in addition to any other specific treatment.
- Disease-Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs (DMARDs) — These medications suppress overactive immune systems caused by autoimmune disorders. They help arthritic joints by decreasing pain and inflammation, preserving function and reducing damage.
- Biologics — This is a type of disease-modifying drug that targets specific parts of the immune system associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Talk to your doctor to see if this is right for you.
- Joint Injections — Your doctor can inject anti-inflammatory drugs, such as corticosteroids, or hyaluronic acid into the joint to reduce inflammation and pain.
- Outpatient Infusion Centers — When infusion therapy is necessary, we provide care at outpatient infusion centers. These centers are managed by highly trained nurses and doctors, and offer a safe, convenient and cost effective way to receive treatment.
- Nutrition and Dietary Therapy — Doctors within the Sutter Health network provide nutritional advice or can refer you to a registered dietician or nutritionist for a consultation or class.
With all medications, your rheumatologist will provide ongoing medication management, including physical exams to check for swelling or pain, and blood tests to detect any side effects and toxicities.
In some cases your doctor may recommend surgery to correct severely damaged joints. Exercise, as well as physical therapy, can also help you reduce pain and preserve the function of your joints and muscles. Your doctor can help connect you with a physical therapist with the right expertise.