Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is a systemic disease that causes the body’s immune system to attack itself. Rather than protecting the body’s joints, the body’s immune system produces substances that inflame and destroy the joints.
RA is a painful and degenerative condition that is usually first noticeable in the toes and fingers. In fact, more than 90% of people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis experience pain, swelling, and stiffness in their toes and ankles.
What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?
The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown, although research does suggest that one’s genes and family medical history play significant roles. In most cases, the disease is triggered by a chemical or environmental change.
Signs and Symptoms of RA
Common signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in the feet include:
- Pain and inflammation in the joints
- Swelling in the toes or around the ankle
- Difficulty bending the joint
- Difficulty walking
- Formation of corns or bunions
- Formation of lumps around the joints
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of energy
How is Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosed?
Rheumatoid arthritis can be difficult to diagnose because so many of its symptoms can be mistaken for other illnesses. The foot and ankle surgeon will perform a thorough examination of the patient’s feet and ankles. He or she will also review the patient’s personal and family medical history. Blood tests are usually ordered to determine the patient’s rheumatoid factor, which is usually elevated in most cases of RA, and to check the patient for anemia, which is another common sign that the patient may have RA. X-rays may also be ordered to evaluate the extent of deformity or damage to the joints.
Non-Surgical Treatment Options for Rheumatoid Arthritis
If a patient is determined to have rheumatoid arthritis, then the foot and ankle surgeon will usually refer him or her to a rheumatologist for specialized medical treatment of the disease. Meanwhile, the foot and ankle surgeon may prescribe special shoes to the patient to help make it easier to walk, or a cane, crutches, or orthotic devices may also be used. Exercise is very important for those with RA, so the foot and ankle surgeon may recommend physical therapy or provide the patient with certain exercises they can perform at home.
When is Surgery Needed?
In some cases where the deformity or loss of cartilage is severe, the foot and ankle surgeon may recommend surgical intervention in order to help improve foot function and alleviate the pain. Surgery is also sometimes used to treat bunions and hammertoes resulting from RA. There are a number of different surgical options available, including fusion and arthroplasty. It is important to note that since RA is a chronic and progressive disease, the long-term success of such surgeries is not entirely known.
Regardless of the case, you surgeon at Pennsylvania Foot and Ankle Associates will discuss all of the conservative and surgical treatment options available to you so you can make the most informed decision about your treatment plan.