To mark Rheumatoid Arthritis Awareness Week (13-18 September) we are focusing on the effects of this debilitating disease on the hip joint. However, rheumatoid arthritis can affect any joint in your body and if you suspect you may have the condition, it is important to seek medical help.
What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes the body’s immune system to mistakenly attack healthy joints in your body. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this chronic condition, which often starts in the smaller joints and spreads throughout the body, attacking the hips later in life as the disease becomes more advanced. Rheumatoid arthritis differs from osteoarthritis as the latter is linked to age-related wear and tear, whereas the former is an autoimmune condition that attacks the linings of your joints, causing painful swelling that can lead to cartilage and bone erosion and joint deformity.
Rheumatoid arthritis can also cause other, secondary symptoms that may affect the skin, eyes, organs, blood vessels, nerves and bone marrow.
Who is at risk?
Although anyone can develop rheumatoid arthritis, certain factors increase your risk. It is more common in women than men and often begins during middle age. However, rheumatoid arthritis can occur in much younger patient groups. Being overweight may increase your risk and a family history of the disease also increases your likelihood of developing rheumatoid arthritis. Smoking may increase both the risk of developing the disease and its severity.
Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis of the hips
The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis may flare up at certain times and be better at other times. The following could all be associated with rheumatoid arthritis of the hip and we recommend further investigation if you are experiencing these symptoms:
- Hip pain, which may be intermittent but is often worse during physical activities such as walking, running or going upstairs.
- As the disease progresses, the pain may increase and become more continuous even when resting. The joint may feel warm or tender.
- A dull ache in the buttock, groin or thighs.
- Stiffness in the hips, particularly in the morning. This normally improves with movement.
- Mobility problems.
- Fatigue, anaemia and loss of appetite.
People with rheumatoid arthritis have an increased chance of certain related conditions including osteoporosis, infections and rheumatoid nodules on the elbows, lungs and heart. There is also a risk of heart problems, lung disease and lymphoma.
If your doctor suspects rheumatoid arthritis you will be given a physical examination to assess your levels of pain and joint mobility and they will ask about any family history of rheumatoid arthritis. You may be given blood tests to check for markers of inflammation and Rheumatoid factor, or sent for diagnostic imaging tests, such as MRI, ultrasound or X-ray.
Treatment options for rheumatoid arthritis of the hips
Although there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, there are things you can do at home to relieve your symptoms. Medical treatments are available that can help you to achieve periods of remission, when symptoms lessen or disappear.
If you are experiencing hip pain, using warm compresses can help to reduce stiffness in your joint while ice packs can relieve pain. Relaxation and meditation can help to lessen stress, which reduces overall inflammation in the body. Low impact exercises such as walking, swimming and yoga can help to ease pain and improve mobility.
In the early stages of the disease, over the counter painkillers and anti-inflammatories can help to manage pain. As the condition worsens, your doctor may offer injections of corticosteroids into your hip joint to help relieve symptoms. Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs slow the progression of the disease and reduce inflammation, while a new class of anti-rheumatic drugs called ‘biologics’ target specific parts of the immune system that trigger an inflammatory response.
As the disease becomes progressively worse you may need hip replacement surgery which involves removing the diseased hip joint and replacing it with a prosthetic implant.
If you have symptoms that could indicate rheumatoid arthritis of the hip, contact us to discuss a diagnosis and relevant treatment options. Although the disease cannot be cured, early diagnosis can help to slow its development and improve your quality of life.
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Please be reassured that despite the ongoing UK Covid-19 pandemic, types of orthopaedic treatments are now again being routinely offered to patients. Having the vaccine does not mean that your treatment won’t go ahead. However, in some circumstances, such as for planned surgery, it is advisable to delay it by a couple of weeks to ensure your body responds in the optimum way to the vaccine. If in doubt, please talk to your orthopaedic consultant or contact us for more guidance to help get your orthopaedic treatment back on track.
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