We’ve all woken up with aching joints, and the occasional morning stiffness is inconvenient but manageable. For people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), however, the activities of daily living—washing hair, buttoning a shirt, or even walking up or down stairs—can be painful all day long.
RA is an inflammatory autoimmune disease characterized by pain, swelling, stiffness and reduced function of the joints. Because the body’s immune system is attacking the thin membranes that line the joints, it is possible that cartilage, tendons and ligaments may also be damaged.
RA is a chronic illness, which means it is ongoing, progressive, and best managed by a physician specially trained in caring for this complex disease. Melissa Schoenwetter, D.O., is one of less than a handful of rheumatologists in Solano County, and she comes to NorthBay Healthcare after more than six years of specializing in the practice at David Grant Medical Center.
For Dr. Schoenwetter, who is both board-certified in internal medicine and rheumatology, becoming a rheumatology specialist was a natural career choice, because the disease is complex and its management requires lots of interaction with patients.
She believes it’s important to take an active role in educating her patients about the disease so they can better manage their condition. Early diagnosis and aggressive treatment may put RA in remission and minimize potential joint and organ damage.
There is at least one common misconception about RA, she notes. It is not a disease just for the elderly. While peak onset is between 50 and 70 years, it can occur in children, teens and young adults in their 20s and 30s. Approximately 1.3 million Americans have rheumatoid arthritis, or 1 percent of the nation’s population.
“There are many good treatment options available for RA, and I find it rewarding when I can see my patients are feeling better,” she adds. “I want them to leave my office feeling I really listened to them and find that in me they will have a healthcare advocate who will work with them to improve the quality of their life.”
Dr. Schoenwetter practices at the Center for Specialty Care, a NorthBay Affiliate, in Vacaville at (707) 624-8530.