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A new high-tech way to treat arthritis

May 21, 2007

New York-WABC

There's a new high-tech way to measure and treat arthritis. Seven's On Call.

For patients with swollen painful joints, arthritis specialists or rheumatologists many times rely on the way the joints look and feel during an exam to gauge the effectiveness of treatment. Now, new technology is literally pointing out the hot spots.

In less than 30 seconds, doctors map the "hot spots" in Nikki Fair's right hand. The 10-year old has been living with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis -- or JRA -- for half of her young life.

"When I first got diagnosed with JRA, I had to stay out of gymnastics for a year, which I did not like at all," she said.

Rheumatoid arthritis patients can have swollen, warm, or red joints, and a very limited range of motion. Doctors say there aren't many ways to measure the inflammation.

"We assess a patient in a very subjective way. They come in, we look at their joints. We try to determine if they're abnormal," said Dr. Raphael Hirsch, a rheumatologist at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

But now, researchers are testing a high-tech way to assess patients. A thermal camera measures the pattern of the skin's temperature. Patients with arthritis have higher temperatures -- or "more red" around the joints.

A second camera takes a 3D snapshot of just part of the wrist to get a better look at the joint. Even the smallest changes are easily noted.

"There's definitely a feeling in the field that if you can catch some of these patients early, you can prevent some of the long-term damage to the joints," Dr. Hirsch said.

Thanks to physical therapy and medication, Nikki has full use of her hands without pain. Doctors say they hope these cameras will someday become a routine part of more effective arthritis treatment.

Arthritis sufferers, even the young ones, often don't get better with the starting doses of drugs. These gadgets will help doctors with objective findings to help guide any increase in the number of pills a patient may need to take.

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