Healthy Tahoe: Get treatment for rheumatoid arthritis sooner than later

Leah Krull, MD

Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease in which your immune system attacks your own joints by mistake. It can start at any age, but the risk is highest in your 60s.

Leah Krull

Rheumatoid arthritis is different from osteoarthritis (OA, or “wear and tear” arthritis) in that it is an autoimmune/inflammatory arthritis with hallmark features of red, hot and swollen joints, and it leads to more joint destruction if left untreated. It is treated differently from OA, with medications and lifestyle changes that help calm the immune system.

If you have been diagnosed with RA, your health care provider may prescribe:

●Medications called disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs to slow the disease’s progress and help prevent further joint damage.

●Lifestyle changes—such as exercising regularly, balancing activity with rest, eating an anti-inflammatory diet, and quitting smoking—to help reduce joint pain and disability.

Hand deformed from rheumatoid arthritis. Getty Images

Early Treatment Matters

RA causes painful joint swelling, called synovitis, in the lining of affected joints. If not treated, this inflammation can injure the cartilage and bones within your joints.he joint may become increasingly painful, misshapen, and hard to move. Significant damage can occur early in the disease, and once this happens, the harm cannot be undone.

This is why it is crucial to start taking a DMARD as soon as possible after the disease begins. This type of medicine helps stop or reduce inflammation and decrease pain, as well as slow down RA and help prevent the destruction of joint tissue.

Don’t Put Off Getting Help

It’s important to talk with your provider about:

●Pain, aching, prolonged morning stiffness, and swelling in more than one joint

●Having the same joint symptoms on both sides of your body, such as in both hands

●Associated symptoms, such as unexplained weight loss, fever, tiredness, and/or weakness

If it turns out that you have RA, the disease can be effectively managed with a combination of medicine and lifestyle changes. But the sooner you get started, the better—so don’t delay.

Dr. Leah Krull is a board-certified rheumatologist who helps patients manage arthritis and treats a variety of joint and inflammation issues at the Barton Center for Orthopedics & Wellness. Visit to learn more or talk to your primary care provider about a referral.

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