The Different Stages of Rheumatoid Arthritis and Treatment Options
Around 22.7% of Americans have some sort of arthritis. This is a disease where your joints have inflammation and pain, which can interfere with your quality of life.
One particular type of arthritis that affects many people is rheumatoid arthritis, which is slightly different from the normal type.
Do you think you may have this type of arthritis? Then keep reading.
In this article, we’ll discuss the different stages of rheumatoid arthritis and the treatment options available to you.
What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
As we’ve stated above, arthritis is where your joints swell and feel painful. In normal arthritis (or osteoarthritis), this is caused by wear and tear. This is because as we go on through life, the cartilage in your joints wears down, which makes you feel more of the pressure and shock in your joints when you move them.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is different because it doesn’t come from wear and tear. Instead, it’s considered an autoimmune disease; this is where your body’s immune system is confused and essentially, it attacks itself.
This means RA is caused by your body wearing down your synovium, which is key in producing the lubricating fluid that lets you move your joints smoothly.
The Stages of Rheumatoid Arthritis
So now you know what RA is. But what exactly are the stages of it?
Below, we’ll describe them so you know what to look out for if you suspect you have rheumatoid arthritis.
In its early stages, RA symptoms are very mild; some people may not even know they have it yet.
Others will have some joint swelling, stiffness, and/or pain. This is because RA is already making their joints inflamed.
At this point, there is no damage to your bones just yet. However, your synovium will be inflamed as well.
You might be able to tell if you have RA or regular osteoarthritis (OA) at this point. If the swelling, stiffness, and pain seem to go away after you move around for a bit, this is probably RA. If it gets worse, then it’s probably OA.
In this stage, there’s pretty much no treatment required. You might want to visit a professional, such as a rheumatologist. But because the symptoms may randomly come and go, it may be difficult to get an official diagnosis at this point.
In stage 2, this is considered moderate RA. Here, the inflammation in your synovium is bad enough to damage your joints.
You might experience more pain, plus a loss in range of motion. Your body is producing antibodies at this point, which means it may be detectable and diagnosable. However, keep in mind that some people may not produce this certain type of antibody, which means they have seronegative RA.
In this stage, the doctor can see a difference in X-rays, blood tests, ultrasound, and MRI.
In addition to swelling, stiffness, and pain, your symptoms may include skin rashes and rheumatoid nodules on your elbows.
Stage 3 is considered severe RA. Both you and your doctor can tell you have RA without even needing to get any diagnostic tests done.
Your joints will start to become misshapen, as there will be damage to both your cartilage and bones. As a result, you’ll be in more pain and see more swelling.
This end-stage RA, which you hopefully won’t have to go through. Surprisingly, there will no longer be any inflammation. However, you’ll probably still have swelling, stiffness, and pain.
If you go undiagnosed up to this stage, then your joints will become fused. At this point, nothing can be done, so it’s extremely important to get treatment as soon as possible if you think you have RA.
When you’ve been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, the most important thing a doctor can do is help slow the progression of this disease. Some over-the-counter drugs you can take to manage your symptoms include NSAIDs. Your doctor can prescribe steroids to help reduce inflammation as well.
One of the main medications you’ll be prescribed to slow down RA is a disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD). A commonly prescribed one is methotrexate. This can help preserve your joint tissue.
If no improvements are seen within half a year, then they’ll prescribe biologics. These are genetically-engineered drugs that tweak your immune system. As a result, this may change your body’s inflammatory response and both slow down RA and decrease your symptoms.
One of the most extreme treatment options available is surgery, which should be your last resort if you have one of the later stages of RA. Things surgeons can do include:
- Repair your tendons
- Remove your synovium
- Remove your nodules
- Fuse your joints together
- Replace your joints
For those who are in stages 3 or 4 of RA, surgery made provide significant relief and improve their range of motion.
Maintaining a healthy weight can be key in managing your RA symptoms. The heavier you weigh, the more stress you put on your joints.
You can speak with your doctor about how you can lose weight through a healthier diet and exercise. Rheumatoid arthritis may limit the physical activity you can do, so you’ll have to discuss which ones won’t put too much pressure on your joints.
You should also stay away from smoking, as this can exacerbate your symptoms.
Speak to Your Doctor Today
Now that you know the different stages of rheumatoid arthritis, you may suspect that you have this condition.
If so, then it’s wise to speak to your doctor. They can go over your symptoms, give you a proper diagnosis, and prescribe you the right medications to help you manage your disease.
Do you already have a prescription for RA medications? Or do you need to fill prescriptions for other health issues?
Then take a look at our selection of medications now. We’ll help you save big on both brand name and generic prescription drugs.