Sunday, December 31, 2000

New treatments ease pain for arthritis sufferers, New York Resident

New treatments ease pain for arthritis sufferers
Pamela Appea
New York Resident

If you feel wrist pain while typing or you’ve noticed lately that your joints feel stiff and achy when you get up in the morning, the symptoms may signal rheumatoid arthritis, which afflicts 2.1 million Americans annually.

Doctors warn the arthritis should be diagnosed early before it permanently damages the cartilage, bone tendons and ligaments of the joints. If the autoimmune disease is left untreated, it can attack the lungs, eyes and other vital organs, taking away a person’s mobility and ultimately increasing the risk of premature death.

In the past, doctors treated rheumatoid arthritis with drugs that reduced pain, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents and corticosteroids, but which did not prevent the joints from further deterioration.

Today, New Yorkers and others can take advantage of cytokine-based research that stops the destructive autoimmune process in its tracks, says Dr. Charles Dinarello, a University of Colorado School of Medicine expert in cytokine research.

Cytokines are messengers between cells that work against infection.

When a person has rheumatoid arthritis, the body produces too many cytokines, which causes unwanted inflammation and cell damage. Research shows that by blocking the body’s two main cytokines—IL-1 and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)— arthritis sufferers can reduce bone erosion and pain. The new FDA-approved therapeutic approach is “extremely” important to young people who are just being diagnosed, Dinarello says.

Aside from medication and combination-agent therapies, doctors may tell patients to combine rest, exercise, joint protection and occupational or physical therapy.

Rheumatoid arthritis sufferers should also note the importance of maintaining flexibility, which means exercising the wrist, hip or other parts of the body.

Originally published the week of December 31, 2001.