Rheumatoid Arthritis (cont.)

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What about rheumatoid arthritis and pregnancy?

In general, rheumatoid arthritis often improves during pregnancy. It is commonplace for the rheumatoid joint inflammation to decrease and be minimized during pregnancy. Unfortunately, this reduction of joint inflammation during pregnancy is not usually sustained after delivery.

Medications that are commonly used to treat inflammation, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs including ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), naproxen (Aleve), and others, are not used during pregnancy. Drugs that are used to stop the progression of rheumatoid disease, such as methotrexate (Rheumatrex, Trexall) and cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune), are not used during pregnancy and also must be discontinued well in advance of conception because of potential risks to the fetus. Biologic medications are avoided during pregnancy when possible.

When rheumatoid arthritis is active during pregnancy, steroid medications such as prednisone and prednisolone are often used to quiet the joint inflammation. These medications do not adversely affect the fetus.

Rheumatoid arthritis diet and other treatments

There is no special diet or diet "cure" for rheumatoid arthritis. One hundred years ago, it was touted that "night-shade" foods, such as tomatoes, would aggravate rheumatoid arthritis. This is no longer accepted as true. Fish oil has been shown to be beneficial in some short-term studies in rheumatoid arthritis. The anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin in dietary turmeric, an ingredient in curry, may be beneficial in reducing symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

The benefits of cartilage preparations for rheumatoid arthritis remain unproven. Symptomatic pain relief can often be achieved with oral acetaminophen (Tylenol) or over-the-counter topical preparations, which are rubbed into the skin. Antibiotics, in particular the tetracycline drug minocycline (Minocin), have been tried for rheumatoid arthritis recently in clinical trials. Early results have demonstrated mild to moderate improvement in the symptoms of arthritis. Minocycline has been shown to impede important mediator enzymes of tissue destruction, called metalloproteinases, in the laboratory as well as in humans.

The areas of the body other than the joints that are affected by rheumatoid inflammation are treated individually. Sjögren's syndrome (described above, see symptoms) can be helped by artificial tears and humidifying rooms of the home or office. Medicated eyedrops, cyclosporine ophthalmic drops (Restasis), are also available to help the dry eyes in those affected. Regular eye checkups and early antibiotic treatment for infection of the eyes are important. Inflammation of the tendons (tendinitis), bursae (bursitis), and rheumatoid nodules can be injected with cortisone. Inflammation of the lining of the heart and/or lungs may require high doses of oral cortisone.

Proper regular exercise is important in maintaining joint mobility and in strengthening the muscles around the joints. Swimming is particularly helpful because it allows exercise with minimal stress on the joints. Physical and occupational therapists are trained to provide specific exercise instructions and can offer splinting supports. For example, wrist and finger splints can be helpful in reducing inflammation and maintaining joint alignment. Devices such as canes, toilet seat raisers, and jar grippers can assist in the activities of daily living. Heat and cold applications are modalities that can ease symptoms before and after exercise.

Surgery may be recommended to restore joint mobility or repair damaged joints. Doctors who specialize in joint surgery are orthopedic surgeons. The types of joint surgery range from arthroscopy to partial and complete replacement of the joint. Arthroscopy is a surgical technique whereby a doctor inserts a tube-like instrument into the joint to see and repair abnormal tissues.

Total joint replacement is a surgical procedure whereby a destroyed joint is replaced with artificial materials. For example, the small joints of the hand can be replaced with plastic material. Large joints, such as the hips or knees, are replaced with metals.

Finally, minimizing emotional stress can help improve the overall health in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Support and extracurricular groups provide those with rheumatoid arthritis time to discuss their problems with others and learn more about their illness.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/16/2013

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