As we get older our joints can get stiff and cause pain. Cartilage breaks down and some of us will need joints like hips and knees replaced. The surgery can get us moving again and feeling good.
Short of that, exercise such as swimming and simple anti-inflammatory pills like ibuprofen can help. But if you watch television at all, you’ve seen the commercials for a different kind of arthritis, typically affecting women -- rheumatoid arthritis or RA.
This is not a condition where the wear and tear of life has taken a toll on the joints. Rather, this is when your own body’s immune system starts attacking the joints and causing inflammation. Over time, if left unchecked, the joints can be destroyed.
There’s no specific test for RA but experienced rheumatologists can make the diagnosis. They look for swelling in joints on both sides of the body. Sometimes RA goes along with another autoimmune condition -- psoriasis.
Getting a diagnosis earlier is important to stop joint damage. Rheumatoid arthritis can’t be reversed. Just a few years ago there was no good way to stop the march of the disease that affects about 1.6 million Americans. Many would end up needing surgery and artificial joints. Some would face being put on disability.
But fortunately the treatment options have expanded greatly, as you’ll guess from all those television commercials and, lately, radio ads for new drugs being studied for RA.
The landscape began to change about 10 years ago as “biologics” were approved by the FDA. These drugs can switch off the inflammatory reaction.
Recently I interviewed 34-year-old Beth Anne Demeter of Palatine, Illinois. She was diagnosed with RA at age 13 and used to take the old, less effective medicines. But in college she enrolled in a clinical trial for one of the new ones. It has worked great and she leads a full life and she’s very active in sports.
You can hear more of Beth Anne’s story and how modern medicine has made it a positive one, as explained by her doctor, rheumatologist Calvin Brown, from Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.