Patient Care and Education
Inflammatory Arthritis is a serious and systemic disease that includes many subtypes. These diseases predominantly affect the joints, but can also involve other parts of the body including the heart, lungs, eyes and skin. Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common form of inflammatory arthritis, affecting an estimated 2 million people in the United States. However, there are many different kinds of inflammatory arthritis that affect millions more individuals every year.
Most forms of inflammatory arthritis are progressive and, if left untreated, will result in pain, disability, and serious damage to the joints. However, rheumatologists (the physicians who specialize in the care of people with inflammatory arthritis) have more treatments available than ever before to help those diagnosed cope with symptoms and maintain their quality of life. It’s important for those who have been diagnosed to know that a growing body of research shows that treatment is most effective when it begins early in the course of the disease.
The rheumatologists and other staff at the Inflammatory Arthritis Center at Hospital for Special Surgery use a combination of nonsurgical techniques, including medications to relieve swelling and pain, while regulating the immune symptom. For many people with inflammatory arthritis, these treatments successfully control symptoms, and slow or even halt the progress of their disease. Surgical options may be appropriate in certain situations where severe joint damage has occurred.
Coping with inflammatory arthritis can be challenging. That is why it is important to learn as much as possible about your condition. We hope you will find the resources in this guide to be helpful.
Inflammatory Arthritis Clinic
The Inflammatory Arthritis Clinic assesses and treats patients affected with inflammatory arthritis. The IAC includes health providers dedicated to the care and improved understanding of these disorders. Over 60 patients are treated at this weekly clinic, where they benefit from the highest quality care provided by a multidisciplinary team that includes expert attending physicians who oversee fellows, residents and students, as well as social workers, a radiologist, scientists, nutrition services, occupational therapy and physical therapy. Patients seen in the clinic can be participants in inflammatory arthritis registries and help with scientific studies and physician education.
Experts at the Inflammatory Arthritis Center have authored many articles on Inflammatory Arthritis. See below to learn more about specific types of this disease as well as treatment options.
Major types of inflammatory arthritis include the following:
Fast Facts about Inflammatory Arthritis
- Inflammatory arthritis refers to a group of disorders caused by an overactive immune system that results in inflammation.
- Inflammatory arthritis is also described as an autoimmune disease, which means that the body’s immune system sees its own healthy cells and tissues as “foreign”, and sets up to attack them.
- Most types of inflammatory arthritis primarily affect the joints, tendons and ligaments. However it can also affect the heart, lungs, skin, eyes and other organs.
- People with inflammatory arthritis can develop the disease at any age, even as toddlers.
- Symptoms of inflammatory arthritis depend on the type of the disease. Some forms, such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis affect the smaller joints, while others, such as spondylitis, affect the spine.
- Inflammatory arthritis is different from osteoarthritis, a disease that is seen more with aging. (Osteoarthritis also affects the joints; however, this is not the result of the body’s altered immune response.)
- If left untreated, inflammatory arthritis can result in irreversible damage to the joints and other affected organs.
- Treatment can be most effective when it begins early on in the course of the disease.
- Rheumatologists are expert physicians specialized in diagnosing and treating inflammatory arthritis and autoimmune diseases where joints can be involved.
- With treatment, inflammatory arthritis can often be well-controlled and put into sustained remission, a state in which symptoms subside, and the risk of damage is greatly reduced.
Support and Education Programs
HSS offers a number of free programs that reflect our comprehensive approach to care for people with rheumatoid arthritis.
Early Arthritis Initiative
The Early Arthritis Initiative (EAI) is committed to the education of the community, local physicians, and individual patients. It was established to:
- Promote the early identification and treatment of arthritis
- Support research efforts to determine more effective treatment and prevention strategies for arthritis
- Provide essential support and education for people with a new diagnosis of inflammatory arthritis
Recent research has shown that early diagnosis and treatment of rheumatoid arthritis can dramatically change the course of the disease. Patients who wait too long to be evaluated and treated may miss out on a narrow window of opportunity to prevent unnecessary destruction of their joints. It is integral to our mission to raise public awareness about the benefits of early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, through outreach and community education.
Treatments may include medication for inflammation, medication to prevent joint damage, referrals for exercise and physical therapy, and/or advice about nutrition and supplements. Patients also have the opportunity to learn about what is going on in the world of rheumatology research that could potentially improve their care.
The EAI offers regularly scheduled community lectures and support and education programs for people with RA, which offer unique opportunities for learning about this illness, both from medical professionals and from peers with the same diagnosis. These programs were developed to provide a welcoming forum where people with RA can share concerns and also have access to:
- Reliable, easy-to-understand illness-related information from healthcare providers
- Coping strategies and emotional support from peers who understand
Faculty and Staff
The EAI is staffed by a team of experienced physicians and clinicians who have expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of rheumatologic diseases.
- Theodore R. Fields, MD, Clinical Director, HSS Early Arthritis Initiative
- Vivian Bykerk, MD, Director, HSS Inflammatory Arthritis Center; Research Director, HSS Early Arthritis Initiative
- Adena Batterman, MSW, LCSW, Manager, RA Support and Education Programs
- Joan Westreich, LCSW, Social Work Coordinator, Early RA Support and Education Program
- Linda Leff, RN, Nurse Manager, HSS Infusion Center
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of symptoms should be evaluated by a doctor if you suspect arthritis?
- Joint pain for less than 3 to 6 months
- Joint swelling or stiffness, particularly in the morning, for less than 3 to 6 months
Strong data shows that it is especially valuable for certain kinds of arthritis, like rheumatoid arthritis, to be diagnosed and treated very early.
Why should I see the doctor for a few aches and pains?
The latest research has shown the critical importance of early treatment of arthritis, especially rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory types of joint pain. The earlier you identify the cause of your pain, the better you’ll be able to fight the disease or find out what’s going on. This is particularly true of rheumatoid arthritis, where early identification and treatment can actually stop the disease from progressing further. If you have morning stiffness or swelling of joints, this is an especially important signal that early evaluation is critical.
Why did HSS start the Early Arthritis Initiative?
HSS has the largest rheumatology program in the United States. Many spend most of their time taking care of patients, and some spend almost all their time in research. The Early Arthritis Initiative reflects the collaboration between these two physician groups.