Combating the joint pain of rheumatoid arthritis and restoring quality of life.
- Written byLaura L. Watts & Dr. Hitasha Singh
- Photographed byShane O’Donnell
As a high school student, Hitasha Singh already had an interest in medicine. She volunteered at Tarzana Hospital throughout her teen years before attending Virginia Commonwealth University and earning her medical degree. She returned to California to complete her rheumatology fellowship at the University of Southern California. The Tarzana native enjoys practicing medicine in the San Fernando Valley and providing care for the community where she grew up.
At Facey Medical Group, Dr. Singh specializes in rheumatology, treating a variety of autoimmune conditions, arthritis, osteoporosis, gout and other musculoskeletal conditions.
“I enjoy helping patients gain control of their disease with a personalized care plan so they can live their best life.”
“Rheumatologists are the Sherlock Holmes of medicine, as we listen carefully to our patients and assess the clinical scenario with the help of lab testing and imaging,” she shares. “Once a diagnosis is made, we then explain the complex disease processes in as simple a way as possible and work with our patients to implement a treatment plan.”
Dr. Singh’s practice involves treating not only the patient’s body but also the mind. Autoimmune diseases are difficult to live with because, while the patient is battling a disease on the inside, they appear healthy to the outside world. “It is hard to explain why you don’t have enough energy to socialize with your friends and family,” the doctor says.
She encourages open dialogue with patients so they can work together to improve quality of life. Here Dr. Singh explains the challenges of living with rheumatoid arthritis and the ways she treats the disorder.
“When you hear the word ‘arthritis,’ you probably think of knee pain when rising from a chair or lower back pain when walking. This is osteoarthritis, a common condition caused by wear and tear of the joints. There is another kind of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, that can start to affect joints at a much earlier age.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune inflammatory disorder where the immune system attacks the joints, likely due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Rheumatoid arthritis affects more than 1.3 million Americans, making it one of the most common autoimmune diseases. Women are more likely than men to develop it, and symptoms occur at any age—although often they begin between the ages of 30 and 50.
Typically, the small joints of the hands and feet are affected with pain, stiffness, swelling and decreased range of motion. The stiffness is generally worse in the morning and lasts one to two hours or even all day. Sometimes the joint pain improves with activity and movement. The prolonged morning stiffness is often a clue that the person may have rheumatoid arthritis, as this is not commonly seen in other joint conditions such as osteoarthritis.
To diagnose rheumatoid arthritis, a rheumatologist examines the affected joints carefully to assess inflammation; conducts laboratory testing to evaluate autoimmune markers along with inflammation levels; and orders imaging including X-rays and, if more detailed views of the joints are required, ultrasound or MRI.
Successful treatment of rheumatoid arthritis prevents permanent damage by calming the inflammatory cells that are attacking the joints. No single treatment plan works for every patient, so the plan is tailored individually and typically changes over time.
Thankfully in the past 30 years new medications have revolutionized the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Previously—due to limited treatment options—patients would likely develop deformities from the disease. Today the disease can be controlled much more effectively with disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs and biologic medications. These medications have significantly improved the quality of life of many patients suffering from moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis. Modifications to diet and incorporating exercise are also important parts of the treatment plan.
It can be challenging to diagnose and treat rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases, but this challenge is what led me to choose rheumatology as a career. I enjoy helping patients gain control of their disease with a personalized care plan so they can live their best life.”
Hitasha Singh, MD Facey Medical Group
18133 Ventura Blvd., Suite 404, Tarzana | 818-466-7700 | facey.com
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