Your body has an unconscious reaction when something invades or tries to harm it. It immediately sends extra fluids and white blood cells to the area to fight off the enemy. But for some unfortunate people (maybe you or a loved one, if you are reading this), their immune system can’t accurately identify the enemy. This happens with rheumatoid arthritis, when your immune system decides that the linings in your joints are the invaders. It attacks the cartilage and synovium and leads to joint degeneration and pain.
Honing in on the Term
People in the past used to complain about their rheumatism acting up. The term refers to any problem in the muscles, tendons, joint, bones or nerves that causes discomfort and limits your abilities. Arthritis is a medical term combining arthro (joint) and itis (inflammation). Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) could thus be defined as a condition resembling rheumatism that causes inflammation and pain in your joints.
Searching for the Causes
Research continues into why the immune system behaves abnormally, but studies have shown that genes, hormones, and environment can all be involved in triggering the response. Other factors may include things like bacteria and viruses, obesity, how your body handles stress, exposures to toxins like cigarette smoke or insecticides, or jobs that expose you to harmful substances. Much more study is needed to figure out the roles these factors play, and you may never know exactly why your body reacts as it does.
Describing What It Feels Like
You can expect to feel pain and tenderness, and the joint may feel stiff, puffy, and warm to the touch. Symmetrical joints in the feet are commonly affected (both ankles, for example), and often in more than one area.
Various types of foot pain are worse in the morning when you first get up (for example, plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendinitis), but with arthritis the pain lasts longer each morning—a half hour or more—or never really goes away in the course of the day. These flares of inflammation, pain, and stiffness can last for weeks or months, and you may also have a low-grade fever, feel tired, or lose your appetite.
Chronic RA can also effect the health of your eyes and mouth, skin, lungs, and circulatory system as well, leading to the risk of other complications, including shortness of breath, blocked arteries, and inflammation around the heart.
Determining the Treatment
The first goal of treatment is to stop the inflammation in its tracks as quickly as possible to put the disease in remission. There are several drugs that can be used for this, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory ones purchased over the counter. We can help you figure out which type you can tolerate and how much you should take.
Other treatment goals include relieving pain and stiffness, preventing damage to joints and organs, improving your physical function and avoiding long-term complications. If we can get the flare down to a low level and keep “tight control” of your RA, your risk for damage and complications lessens. Meds that may help achieve this include corticosteroids and disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDS).
Regular moderate exercise is helpful in keeping joints limber and can actually help reduce pain in the long run. We can help you design activities that give you a workout but don’t stress your painful joints. With good control, hopefully they will not deteriorate to the point that surgery is needed, although end-game treatments such as joint fusion and replacement are available if necessary.
Take Your Arthritic Feet to Metro Phoenix Experts
Podiatrists Dr. David Laurino and Dr. Antonius Su understand feet, and are trained and certified surgeons as well, so whatever treatment your feet or ankles need, we have the expertise to provide it. Call Advanced Foot & Ankle Specialists of Arizona in Chandler at (480) 963-9000 or reach our Gilbert office by dialing (480) 981-1800 and get help today. We want to help you manage and control this disease, so you can stay active and enjoy your life.