Anyone who has prolonged or severe joint pain should be examined by a health care provider. Don't put it off. A thorough evaluation may lead to a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, or you may learn that you do not have arthritis and that your symptoms are due to another condition (such as bursitis or tendonitis). If you do have rheumatoid arthritis, the sooner your disease is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome is likely to be. If you already have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, you can maximize the benefits of treatment by being diligent about your ongoing care and monitoring.
There is no single treatment for rheumatoid arthritis that works for everyone, and treatments that work well initially may not be as effective as your disease progresses. Your health care provider will review a variety of treatment options with you when you are newly diagnosed, as well as when you need a change in treatment.
Treatment choices are based on your preferences, lifestyle, the severity of your illness, your other medical conditions, and the other prescription or over-the-counter drugs you take on a regular basis. For example, a person who drinks alcohol on a regular basis may not be the best candidate for methotrexate, which can lead to severe liver problems in someone who also drinks alcohol regularly or in large quantities. Another person may not want to take etanercept because of the injections required. Together, you and your health care provider will individualize your treatment by deciding which of the various options suits you best.
There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis — at least not yet. But a comprehensive treatment approach can help many people with rheumatoid arthritis lead normal or near-normal lives. This approach combines drug treatment, rest balanced with exercise, lifestyle modifications (for example, taking a nap in the afternoon) and, occasionally, surgery. The treatment of rheumatoid arthritis focuses on reducing pain, maintaining function and preventing future joint damage. Because the treatments for rheumatoid arthritis can cause their own problems, it is also critical to consider all the risks and benefits and to monitor treatment properly.
The basic treatment approaches to rheumatoid arthritis include:
- Drug treatment
- Surgical treatment
- Treatment without drugs or surgery
- Investigational treatments