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Arthritis: New Treatments for an Old Problem

By Sonia Bajaj, M.D.

Many of us grew up watching our older relatives suffer with their arthritis; therefore, many assume that we have to accept arthritis pain as an inevitable part of growing older.  Previous generations treated their arthritis with pain relievers, ointments and folk remedies, but treatment for arthritis has improved dramatically with the introduction of a new class of medication designed for arthritis patients.

What is Arthritis?

One in three adults suffers from joint pain, stiffness, occasional swelling and difficulty moving a joint.  Arthritis can make it difficult to do normal daily activities like climbing stairs, opening a jar, or writing.  More than 100 types of arthritis exist, and most types are chronic.

The cause of arthritis is often unknown, although family history, joint injury and inflammation are thought to be important factors.  Excess weight strains knee and hip joints, which increases the risk of osteoarthritis.  

How is Arthritis Treated?

Treatment varies depending on the type of arthritis.  Many patients find relief from mild to moderate arthritis with a combination of pain relievers, heat and cold packs, exercise, dietary supplements, massage and yoga. 

A new class of drugs called biological response modifiers (BRMs) have made a dramatic difference for those suffering from inflammatory arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis.  People with inflammatory arthritis have an overactive immune system that mistakenly attacks the bones and joints. 

BRMs supplement a natural part of the immune system that blocks a messenger that triggers the inflammation process. The medication helps reduce inflammation and pain, increase physical function, and slow the progression of inflammatory arthritis.  In some forms of arthritis, BRMs reduce the likelihood of damage to bone and cartilage.

Most patients who use these sophisticated medicines see significant reduction in pain and an increase in energy within three months.  BRMs prevent further damage to the joints in more than half the patients.

When to Seek Treatment?

If you have experienced joint tenderness, stiffness, or swelling for more than two weeks, see a physician.  Your doctor will listen to your medical history, conduct a physical examination, and order tests to determine if you have arthritis and what type it is.

Early diagnosis and treatment of arthritis is important to help slow or prevent damage to joints.  Also, your quality of life improves as your pain decreases and joint function increases. 

I have seen some patients who have suffered with arthritis for years but put off seeing a doctor.  Some think no relief is available, and others are concerned that the cost of medication will be prohibitive.  New medication options can alleviate the pain, and insurance usually covers the expense.  On the occasions when insurance doesn’t pay for the medications, the drug manufacturers have programs to provide the medication free or at a deep discount.

Appliances, electronics, and automobiles have improved since your grandmother’s day, and so has arthritis treatment.  New developments give arthritis patients more and better options today.

Dr. Sonia Bajaj, a board-certified rheumatologist, provides treatment for conditions including arthritis, lupus, vasculitis, osteoporosis and gout at her office in Suite 215 of the medical office buildings at Huguley Memorial Medical Center.  Before opening her Huguley office, she practiced rheumatology in Tucson, Arizona.   For appointments or more information, she may be reached at 817-293-9631.