Diagnosing and Treating Elderly Onset Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis is a very serious type of arthritis, which is more common among the elderly. Diagnosing and treating rheumatoid arthritis presents health care professionals with a number of difficulties, with elderly onset rheumatoid arthritis(EORA) typically being more difficult to diagnose than young onset rheumatoid arthritis .

Symptoms and effects of young onset rheumatoid arthritis are also usually slightly different than elderly onset rheumatoid arthritis. For example, young onset arthritis is about 50% more likely to occur in a female than in a male and it most often affects hands and feet. In the elderly, rheumatoid arthritis is still more common among women, but less so than among younger patients. Also, in the elderly, the disease is more likely to develop around the shoulders and upper extremities, with seniors also having a worse outlook.

One of the major difficulties with diagnosing elderly onset rheumatoid arthritis is that there are a number of other diseases that share similar symptoms with this type of disorder. Further, many of the blood tests that are preformed are not as effective in seniors, as with age many of the commonly tested for items, such as auto-antibodies, are naturally more common in the elderly, even those without rheumatoid arthritis.

The Importance of an Accurate Diagnosis

During diagnosis, it is critical that the doctor correctly differentiate between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. This is because the treatment used to treat osteoarthritis differs from other types of arthritis, as does the ultimate effects of the disease. Often, the symptoms of osteoarthritis, which include increased pain during periods of activity and swelling of the bones, will provide the clearest indication of what type of arthritis is present. Hand problems, as well as problems in weight bearing joints, such as the hips and knees, are also indications that osteoarthritis might be present.

There are a number of other diseases and conditions that can share similar symptoms, making an accurate diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis much more difficult. This includes gout, polymyalgia rheuatica, and endocrine disorders.

Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis

When treating rheumatoid arthritis, an accurate diagnosis is essential, which will need to be followed up by a plan of action that includes controlling pain, improving functionality, and preventing the disease from getting worse. Preventing the spread of the disease is an intrinsic part of treatment, as there is no way to reverse the effects of arthritis.

Typically, the medication used to treat young onset and elderly onset rheumatoid arthritis are similar, both relying on Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. However, studies have found that many of the traditional nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are more likely to cause renal failure, gastrointestinal bleeding, and problems with the nervous symptom. With these risks in mind, the effectiveness and inexpensiveness of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs often make them the best choice for treating this type of arthritis.

Ultimately, the outlook for elderly patients with rheumatoid arthritis and younger ones is similar, with many of the actions that cause complications in the young, also causing difficulties in treatment among the elderly. However, elderly patients are at an increased risk for developing complications and other diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, making the effects of rheumatoid arthritis much more serious among seniors. In time, it is hoped that newer treatments and medications will help mediate some of this risk.

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