Dear Dr. Roach: Why doesn’t rheumatoid arthritis have any medicines to help treat it? — S.S.K.
Answer: Rheumatoid arthritis is relatively common (as much as 1% of the population, with women twice as likely to be affected than men), but it’s a much less common form of arthritis than osteoarthritis, which affects as much as 40% to 50% of an older population. However, rheumatoid arthritis is much more feared because it can be destructive to the joints. It can also affect other parts of the body besides the joints, especially the heart, lungs, blood vessels and skin.
When I underwent training, I saw many patients with terrible deformities of their hands, but that is much less common now because there are many new and effective treatments for rheumatoid arthritis. It’s important for primary care doctors like me to recognize rheumatoid arthritis early and get our patients to the experts (rheumatologists) as quickly as possible to begin treatment before permanent damage to the joints occurs. Blood testing and X-rays usually confirm the diagnosis.