It may be surprising, butthe term “arthritis” actually refers to a group of more than one hundred different conditions. All of these conditions cause pain and stiffness in the joints, which can result in some swelling as the body attempts to rush white blood cells to the site of injury. However, severe swelling, especially in the feet, is typically caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
Unlike osteoarthritis, which typically develops due to wear and tear on the joints, rheumatoid arthritis is a disease entirely separated from the aging process. The Arthritis Foundation describes rheumatoid arthritis as an autoimmune disease, a condition identified by the body attacking its own tissues. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s immune system targets the synovium, a tissue that acts as a lining for your joints. Misidentifying the synovium as a threat, the immune system floods the area with white blood cells in an attempt to stave off further infection.
Unfortunately, the arthritis swelling caused by the influx of white blood cells is only half the problem. Over time, the continuous damage and attempted repair of the synovium actually results in a gradual thickening of the lining. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons warns that he synovium will slowly encroach on “the bone and cartilage, as well as ligaments and tendons, and may cause serious joint deformity and disability.”
This debilitating disease typically starts in the foot and ankles but is most easily identified by its symmetry, meaning that it usually attacks the same joints on both sides of the body. It is true that all forms of arthritis can be damaging and eventually limit mobility if left untreated, but the aggressive nature of arthritis swelling and the fact that it typically targets your feet first can make it a more immediate danger to your independence.
Managing Arthritis Swelling
Luckily, Medical News Today lists a number of treatments available to help patients manage rheumatoid arthritis and its symptoms. Of course, your foot and ankle specialist will want to review your individual case before considering which treatments are right for you.
- Joint aspiration: If the swelling is severe, then your doctor may suggest removing some of the excess fluid from around the joint after injecting a local anesthetic.Johns Hopkins Medical cautions that you may experience some discomfort and bruising. Be sure to follow all medical instructions and keep the site of the procedure clean in order to protect against infection.
- Hydrocortisone injection: Your doctor may also elect to inject hydrocortisone into the joint to counter the inflammation at the site. As with any medication, it is important that your doctor has an honest and complete medical history prior to administering the injection. Medline Plus provides a comprehensive list of factors your doctor may need to be aware of in order to safely administer this treatment.
- Disease Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs (DMARDs): There are actually several drugs that fit into this category. All of them work to suppress the root-cause of your symptoms, the disease itself. According to the Arthritis Foundation, these medications actively block inflammation, aiding in the protection of the surrounding joint tissues. Each of the different drugs in this class work differently, so your doctor’s choice of prescription will largely depend on the progression of your disease and dominant symptoms.
- Corticosteroids or Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs): These are often used in combination with other treatments to further reduce inflammation.
- Biologic Agents: The Arthritis Foundation lists biologic drugs as a last resort for when other medications aren’t working. They are typically potent and expensive. However, they can be effective alternatives for patients who have already tried other treatments without success. As with DMARDs, biologic agents work by blocking the immune responses that cause the initial inflammation. As immunosuppressants, both options can make you more susceptible to other diseases, so you’ll want to discuss these choices carefully with your doctor.