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Hope for Arthritis Sufferers


Opening a jar is painful. It hurts to button a shirt. You’ve noticed discomfort, stiffness, swelling — even redness — around your knuckles and finger joints.

If any of this is familiar, you may be experiencing symptoms linked to the onset of arthritis. The prospect of living with arthritis can be worrisome, especially when you begin to experience limits in daily life.

However, for people who are just beginning to feel the effects of arthritis, losing movement in your hands is no longer inevitable. New surgical techniques offer hope for arthritis sufferers — hope that hands will not lose the mobility and strength to function.

“There have been tremendous advancements in treating upper extremity and hand arthritis,” said Thomas VonGillern, M.D. “New technology, surgical techniques and procedures give new hope to maintain a quality of life, even after the onset of arthritis.”

Two Primary Kinds of Arthritis
The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is much more common and generally affects older people. Also known as “wear and tear” arthritis, osteoarthritis causes cartilage to wear away. It appears in a predictable pattern in certain joints.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease that can affect many parts of your body. It causes the joint lining (synovium) to swell, which causes pain and stiffness in the joint. It usually affects the same joints on both sides of the body. According to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, about two-thirds of rheumatoid arthritis sufferers experience symptoms in their hands.

Early intervention
Rheumatoid arthritis can be a progressive disease, meaning it worsens over time. While anti-inflammatory medicines or disease-modifying drugs can slow down the disease’s progress, those medicines do not offer a cure.

“Once rheumatoid arthritis advances significantly, there is enough swelling in the joints and tissue that the joints can get loose,” said Dr. VonGillern. “And after a joint’s lining membrane is stretched, the surfaces no longer fit together well. That’s when the joint starts to rub and can wear out on one side. The uneven wear and joint laxity results in the deformities of rheumatoid arthritis.”

It’s important to remember, however, that if you can catch the disease before the membranes get stretched out, it’s much easier to restore function, strength and appearance, while simultaneously relieving pain.

Surgical Responses to Arthritis Progression
Early surgical consultations can be critically important to maximize function and minimize deformities. Many of these surgeries are minimally invasive procedures that can be performed at outpatient facilities.

“Minimally invasive procedures eliminate the need for large incisions, which result in less postoperative pain and scarring,” said Dr. VonGillern. “This surgical approach enables patients to recover faster with better results.”

Preventive surgery may include removing nodules, decreasing pressure on joints and tendons by removing inflamed tissue, or removing bone spurs that may rub on tendons or ligaments. If a tendon ruptures, the surgeon may be able to repair the tendon with a tendon transfer or graft. In addition, a number of new interventions offer relief from pain, deformity, and lost function.

“Over the last 10 years, materials have been developed to allow surgeons to replace worn knuckle joints and restore movement,” said Dr. VonGillern. “That is a huge step forward in the treatment of this disease. Before joint replacement surgeries, people had decreased strength and increased deformities. Combined, those significantly diminished quality of life.”

There are several other types of procedures to treat joints affected by rheumatoid arthritis, including removal of inflamed joint lining and joint fusions — usually of the little joints by the fingernails. Choosing the appropriate procedure involves assessing the particular joints involved, the degree of damage present, and the condition of surrounding joints.

For more information about Thomas VonGillern, MD, visit qcora.com. For more information about the Mississippi Valley Surgery Center, visit www.mvhealth.net or Facebook at www.facebook.com/MississippiValleySurgeryCenter.

Photo courtesy of Mississippi Valley Surgery Center

Think You Might Have Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis (RA), in the early stages, can be difficult. While there is no single test, doctors evaluate a patient’s condition against a series of factors strongly associated with the disease.  The American College of Rheumatology uses this list of seven factors:

  1. Morning stiffness in and around the joints for at least one hour.
  2. Swelling or fluid around three or more joints simultaneously.
  3. At least one swollen area in the wrist, hand or finger joints.
  4. Arthritis involving the same joint on both sides of the body (symmetric arthritis).
  5. Rheumatoid nodules, which are firm lumps in the skin of people with rheumatoid arthritis. These nodules are usually in pressure points of the body, most commonly the elbows.
  6. Abnormal amounts of rheumatoid factor in the blood.
  7. X-ray changes in the hands and wrists typical of rheumatoid arthritis, with destruction of bone around the involved joints.

Rheumatoid arthritis is officially diagnosed if four or more of these seven factors are present. The first four factors must have been present for at least six weeks.