Greenville, S.C. (WSPA)– About one-in-four Americans have doctor-diagnosed arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As part of our “Ask the Expert” series, in partnership with Bon Secours St. Francis, 7NEWS Anchor Taylor Murray, spoke with a rheumatologist about managing one type, rheumatoid arthritis, and how those who have it can still live a normal life.

“It’s not a simple arthritis.”

Dr. Mona Idrees, Rheumatologist, Bon Secours St. Francis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease.

“Where your immune system, instead of doing what it’s supposed to, protecting you against infection or bacteria or viruses, starts attacking your own body,” Dr. Idrees said.

Dr. Mona Idrees, a rheumatologist, says rheumatoid arthritis is different than other types of arthritis because it affects more than just your joints.

“It can absolutely affect many, many other organs. The most common organs for rheumatoid arthritis to affect, outside of the joints, are your lungs, eyes, heart… and vessels. These are very serious areas,” Dr. Idrees said.

Painful swelling is common in the affected body parts.

The goal of treating rheumatoid arthritis is to reduce that inflammation and prevent joint and organ damage.

“All the treatments are geared towards immune suppression, as opposed to simply fixing the joint.”

Dr. Mona Idrees, Rheumatologist, Bon Secours St. Francis

Dr. Idress says treatment usually includes a low-dose immunosuppressive drug that your doctor will monitor closely.

“They are very low-dose chemo essentially is how we treat them,” Dr. Idrees said.

Dr. Idrees says the inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis puts you at risk for other serious diseases.

“We’re finding that having RA puts you at such high risk of inflammation that it leads to a risk of getting cardiovascular disease, strokes, heart attacks, kidney problems,” Dr. Idrees said.

She says this is why treating it is so important.

“All of these patients, that are well controlled, almost all of them go on to live a perfectly, healthy life,” Dr. Idrees said.

The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown, but it is two-to-three times more common in women than men.

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