Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease in which your immune system mistakenly attacks the lining of your joints, causing pain and swelling. Left untreated, the swelling can damage the cartilage (cushioning between bones) and the bones within the joints, leading to joint instability and deformity. Chronic swelling can cause problems throughout your body, affecting your skin, eyes, blood vessels, lungs, and other organs.
Most often, rheumatoid arthritis affects the joints in your hands, wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles. Initially, it tends to affect the smaller joints on your hands and feet, and it can affect the larger joints — such as your hips and shoulders — as it progresses.
The most common early symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:
- Joint pain, swelling or stiffness in more than one joint for six weeks or longer
- Joint stiffness in the morning or after inactivity
- Symptoms that affect the same joint on both sides of your body (symmetrical)
- Fatigue, low-grade fever, and loss of appetite
The symptoms come and go, with periods when symptoms worsen, or flare, for days or months.
The earlier you get treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, the better — early treatment can slow, or even stop, the progression of the disease. Rheumatologists at University of Miami Health System have the experience to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis quickly so you can begin treatment as soon as possible. With locations throughout South Florida, you can get expert care that’s close to home.
Doctors use a variety of medicines to stop the immune system from attacking healthy tissues, including:
- Corticosteroids: slow the body's immune response to relieve swelling and pain
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs): suppress the immune system broadly to prevent swelling
- Genetically engineered biologics: a newer type of DMARD that targets specific immune functions
Some of the medicines can be taken orally, but others are given as an injection. Doctors use ultrasound-guided injections, which allows us to locate the area that’s causing pain and guide the injection of medicine directly to the source.
Physical and Occupational Therapies
A physical therapist can show you exercises and stretches to keep your joints flexible. Your doctor may also send you to an occupational therapist, who can teach you new ways of doing things to protect your joints and recommend assistive devices — such as zipper pulls or buttoning aids for those with sore finger joints — to make everyday activities easier.
Although surgery may never be necessary for many people with rheumatoid arthritis, it can offer relief for those who have permanent joint damage that limits daily function. Our orthopedic surgeons are skilled in joint replacement, tendon repair, and other joint-restoring procedures. We use the most advanced, least-invasive techniques to help you move better, without pain.
Doctors use a variety of blood tests to help diagnose rheumatoid arthritis, including tests that look for swelling (erythrocyte sedimentation rate and C-reactive protein test) and antibodies (blood proteins) that are associated with the condition (anti-CCP test).
Doctors use noninvasive ultrasound (sound waves), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) (magnetic energy and radio waves), and X-ray imaging to check your joints and look for damage, such as the wearing away of bones within the joint.
Why Choose UHealth?
The latest treatments for rheumatoid arthritis and other rheumatic diseases. In addition to treating patients, our rheumatologists conduct research to find better approaches for managing the disease. That means you receive care from specialists on the leading edge of arthritis care.
Expert diagnosis and personalized attention. Early, aggressive treatment can put the disease into remission, which means signs of swelling are minimal or stopped. You get a customized treatment plan that's designed to give you the best possible results.
Comprehensive care from a team of specialists. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect different areas of your body, so our rheumatologists work with doctors in a full range of medical specialties to give you comprehensive, coordinated care — such as dermatologists, orthopedic specialists, vascular specialists, pulmonologists (lung diseases), ophthalmologists, and others.
Specialized care to improve your quality of life. Our rheumatologists work closely with physical therapists, pain management specialists, and other health care professionals to help manage joint pain and fatigue. We educate you about lifestyle changes that can improve symptoms — such as regular exercise and a healthy diet — and offer a wide range of therapies to help you feel better.
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