A diagnosis of arthritis is the first step toward successful treatment. To diagnose arthritis, your doctor will consider your symptoms, perform a physical exam to check for swollen joints or loss of motion, and use blood tests and X-rays to confirm the diagnosis. X-rays and blood tests also help distinguish the type of arthritis you have. For example, most people with rheumatoid arthritis have antibodies called rheumatoid factors (RF) in their blood, although RF may also be present in other disorders.
X-rays are used to diagnose osteoarthritis, typically revealing a loss of cartilage, bone spurs, and in extreme cases, bone rubbing against bone. Sometimes, joint aspiration (using a needle to draw a small sample of fluid from the joint for testing) is used to rule out other types of arthritis. If your doctor suspects infectious arthritis as a complication of some other disease, testing a sample of fluid from the affected joint will usually confirm the diagnosis and determine how it will be treated.
Treatment of arthritis generally includes rest, occupational or physical therapy, exercise, drugs, and sometimes surgery to correct joint damage.
Treatments for osteoarthritis generally can help relieve pain and stiffness, but the disease may continue to progress. The same was true for rheumatoid arthritis in the past, but newer treatments for rheumatoid arthritis have been able to slow or stop the progression of arthritis damage.
Arthritis Treatment: Occupational Therapy
Protecting your joints is an important part of arthritis treatment. With the help of an occupational therapist, you can learn easier ways to do your normal activities. An occupational therapist can teach you how to:
Avoid positions that strain your joints
Use your strongest joints and muscles while sparing weaker ones
Provide braces or supports to protect certain joints
Use grab bars in the bath
Use modified doorknobs, canes, or walkers
Use devices to help you with tasks such as opening jars or pulling up socks and zippers
Arthritis Treatment: Medicine
Arthritis treatment will depend on the nature and seriousness of the underlying condition. The main goals are to reduce inflammation and improve the function of affected joints before more serious problems occur.
To reduce pain and inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, your doctor will probably prescribe acetaminophen or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as Aleve.
Your doctor may recommend corticosteroid joint injections to ease the pain and stiffness of affected joints. Depending on the individual, results range from temporary relief to long-lasting suppression of symptoms. Your doctor may also inject a hyaluronic acid solution into your joints. Hyaluronic acid mimics normal joint fluid and can reduce pain and increase mobility. Some examples are Hyalgan, Synvisc, Supartz, and Orthovisc.
Additional drugs that may help preserve joint function in people with rheumatoid arthritis include methotrexate, Arava, Azulfidine, Enbrel, Imuran, Plaquenil, Remicade, Humira, Kineret, Rituxan, and Orencia. In general, these medications work by suppressing the overactive immune system.
Treatment of infectious arthritis typically involves large intravenous doses of antibiotics, as well as drainage of excess infected fluid from the joints.