#1 Rheumatoid Arthritis is more than a joint disease.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which inflammation damages the lining of joints, tissues that surround joints (such as tendons), other connective tissue throughout the body, and the surface of bones. RA is one of more than 100 forms of arthritis affecting millions of Americans. It is not the same disease as osteoarthritis which is commonly called the “wear and tear” arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect persons of any age, may cause crippling disability that impairs a person’s ability to stay active and independent, and may shorten a person’s lifespan.
#2 RA can not be diagnosed by blood tests alone.
Rheumatoid arthritis is diagnosed by a combination of clinical history, laboratory tests, and imaging studies (such as x-ray, MRI, or ultrasound). Common blood tests used to help reach a diagnosis include those which measure nonspecific inflammatory markers, such as erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR or sed rate) or C-reactive protein (CRP). Most people with RA, will test positive for rheumatoid factor (RF); however, up to a third of people with RA will test negative for RF. These individuals have sero-negative RA. Studies show that anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP) antibodies may be detected in healthy individuals years before the clinical onset of RA. Additional abnormal blood test results may include high platelet count, low albumin, anemia, and elevated alkaline phosphatase (a liver enzyme).
#3 RA increases your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Rheumatoid arthritis, a systemic disease which damages more than joints, can also affect internal organs such the heart, lungs, liver, or vascular system. RA has been associated with cardiovascular disease, heart failure, lung disease, eye disorders, fibromyalgia, depression, and more. Patients with RA need to attend to their cardiovascular health by controlling high cholesterol, eating a heart-healthy balanced diet, and getting regular exercise. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among people diagnosed with RA.
#4 Exercise is good for RA.
Rheumatoid arthritis causes pain and stiffness and often reduces range of motion. While special care must be taken to protect joints during an RA flare, general immobility can be counterproductive for someone with RA. Low impact exercises, such as swimming, walking, cycling, or yoga, are recommended to improve strength, flexibility, range of motion, and cardiovascular health. Studies have shown that 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, five days a week, can boost mood and improve overall health and function. Talk to your physician about the best exercise regimen for you.
#5 Early and aggressive treatment is best for RA.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive disease which if left unchecked can cause permanent damage, disability, and dysfunction. Studies have shown that initiating aggressive treatment within three months of symptom onset is critical to helping patients achieve remission. However, a diagnosis of RA can often take longer than three months. Prompt treatment with disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) can help to reduce RA symptoms and protect against damaging inflammation. Once remission or indications of low disease activity have been achieved, however, it is equally important to stay on treatment. RA is a lifelong, incurable disease which requires lifelong treatment.