Rheumatoid Arthritis: Your guide to living with the disease

Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful and disabling condition. Here is your guide to living with it.

rheumatoid arthritisHearing your doctor tell you that you've rheumatoid arthritis (RA) will certainly not count as a pleasant experience. For those who don't know, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that attacks flexible joints and is a painful and disabling condition. However, despite the grave nature of the ailment, there are various ways to manage the condition. We spoke to two renowned rheumatologists, Dr Pravin Hisariya from Apollo Hospital, Ahmedabad and Dr Syamasis Bandyopadhyay from Apollo Gleneagles, Kolkata about the disease, how it functions and the latest treatments to help you get better.

How does the immune system play a part in rheumatoid arthritis?

Dr Bandhopadyay says, 'Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease where the immune system of a person's body a system that is supposed to protect the body from foreign bodies fails to recognise the body's own cells as harmless and attacks them. In this case it does not recognise the cells of the synovial membranes as its own, and launches a defensive action against them, leading to swelling, pain in the joints, discomfort and general debility.' (Read: Keep arthritis at bay with exercise)

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What are the treatment options for people with rheumatoid arthritis?

Once a patient is diagnosed, the doctor will prescribe a number of oral medications to help the person cope with the condition. Some of the most common ones prescribed are NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), painkillers, steroids (drugs that help reduce swelling and slow the damage caused to the bones) and DMARDs (disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs). These drugs slow down the progression of the disease and prevent damage to the joints of the patient. Patients are also prescribed immunosuppressant drugs, drugs that affect one's immune system and effectively slow the action of the system against the body. Dr Pravin Hisariya adds, 'Apart from taking these medications one should get regular blood tests and monitor their condition closely at all times.' (Read: Diagnosis and treatment of arthritis)

What are the changes one has to make while living with RA?

Dr Pravin Hisariya says, 'If one suffers from RA he/she has to ensure to take their medication regularly and to follow an exercise regimen based on their doctor's advice. It is crucial that they do it regularly. These are often tailor-made exercises, designed according to the patient's needs. They should also eat right and try to stay as healthy as possible.'

How can the condition be managed properly? What should patients avoid in their daily lives?

According to Dr Pravin Hisariya, 'One should try and live a normal life, but be careful not to overdo things.' According to Dr Syamasis Bahdhopadyay, 'People with rheumatoid arthritis should avoid smoking and drinking alcohol, as both these habits tend to worsen the condition. Moreover, these people should be careful to keep a close watch on their weight, as weight gain can stress the person's joints more, leading to a severe inflammation and pain.'

What are the advancements in the treatment of this condition?

Dr Pravin Hisariya says, 'There are a number of therapies in the market, but the newest and most advanced treatment option so far is the use of biologics. These are biological disease-modifying therapies that target inflammatory proteins also known as tumour-necrosis factor (TV-f) that effectively reduce inflammation, pain and swelling. The uniqueness of these drugs is that they target the root of the problem and do not work on the symptoms alone. They are not merely painkillers or anti-inflammatory drugs they target the faulty protein, stopping it in its tracks.' Biologics is the latest and most effective treatment available and it helps in normalising the life of a patient to a great extent. Some of the most common biologic medicines used today are Abatacept, Rituximab and Tocilizumab.'

According to some reports there are certain studies that talk about the possibility of using stem cells to treat this condition. But according to Dr Pravin Hisariya, 'This therapy might not be the best for patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.' (Read: Guide to living with arthritis)

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