Your body's immune system is essential for fighting off microbes that cause disease. However, sometimes the immune system can develop its own problems. If it has a deficiency, you won't be able to fight off infections very well. Your immune system can also become overactive and respond to substances that are not harmful, which can happen with allergies. Your immune system can even attack your own body and cause a condition such as rheumatoid arthritis. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, your doctor may refer you to an immunologist or other specialist trained in immunology for treatment. Here are treatments your doctor might try.
Drugs That Target Your Immune System
Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, or DMARDs, target your immune system. They calm it so it isn't so overactive that it destroys your joints. The downside to these drugs is the increased risk of infection from a suppressed immune system. As research improves the targeting ability of these drugs, they become safer to use and could possibly save your joints from severe damage over time.
Biologic drugs are another option that target your immune system to keep it suppressed. Like other immunosuppressive drugs, these raise the potential risk of developing an infection. There are different biologic drugs to try that affect different parts of the immune system, so your doctor might find a medication that works well for you.
Medication To Reduce Inflammation
In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, your body's immune system attacks your joints. They become inflamed, stiff, and painful. You might be given anti-inflammatory drugs such as corticosteroids to help. If your condition is mild, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications might be enough to help initially. However, rheumatoid arthritis tends to get worse over time and do more and more joint damage if your immune system can't be controlled.
Joint Replacement Surgery
If the pain from your damaged joints is severe, your doctor may recommend joint replacement surgery. You might need more than one joint replaced over the years. While it doesn't cure your immune system dysfunction, it will relieve pain from chronically inflamed and damaged joints. If you begin proper treatment for rheumatoid arthritis in its early stages, you might be able to slow down its progression enough that surgery can be avoided.
While rheumatoid arthritis is similar to osteoarthritis in that both of them cause joint damage, the conditions are very different. Osteoarthritis is a gradual wearing down of the joints and rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes joint damage. For that reason, the two conditions are treated very differently. If you've been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, you'll want to work with a doctor that can treat your immune system as well as your joints.