Consider this a pop quiz; when is the right time to get treated if you have Rheumatoid Arthritis?
A. When I start noticing deformities in my hand?
B. When I develop difficulty doing my normal activities?
C. When I can’t stand the pain any longer?
D. When my doctor mentions I should have my hands looked at during my yearly general health check up?
In the past, answers A, B, and C were typically accepted by patients and the medical community. That was due to insufficient treatments and poor understanding of the disease process. Answer D makes no sense since your health problems occur in real time, not on a scheduled annual basis. The only appropriate answer is E, Immediately! MRI studies in RA patients show development of erosions in the hands within the first 3 months of disease onset. We know that early recognition and treatment results in dramatically better outcomes. Which outcomes am I referring to? The ones that should count to you and your doctor, including pain, functional decline, and irreversible damage.
The treatments for RA certainly include physical and occupational therapy, natural treatments such as omega 3, and nutritional adjustments to prevent earlier occurrence of heart disease. But most importantly they include using medications that modify the immune system to prevent over inflammation and progressive damage to your joints. These meds are the real deal, and while they have well defined potential risks, they work better than anything else available. Considering this condition can cause not only pain but also disability, very poor quality of life, and even increase the risk of heart disease long term, you need to treat this condition seriously and with meds that actually work. An aggressive disease requires focused, aggressive treatment, with careful and conscientious monitoring for side effects. Anything less than a fully committed effort to improve your health is inadequate. That’s an appropriate and modern day treatment style for RA.