For millions of Americans with rheumatoid arthritis, even small tasks’like getting dressed in the morning, preparing a meal or penning a personal note’can require a major effort. But early, aggressive treatment of rheumatoid arthritis can make a difference, said Dr. David Karp, chief of rheumatic diseases at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. ‘An individual has to take the first step by making the decision to come in and be evaluated,’ Karp said. ‘People should see a physician if discomfort in bones, joints or muscles lasts more than a few weeks or interferes with their daily routine. In many cases, a visit to a rheumatologist is needed to confirm the diagnosis and design customized treatment.’ Rheumatoid arthritis is similar to other autoimmune or inflammatory conditions, such as insulin-dependent diabetes and multiple sclerosis, said Karp, adding, ‘People quickly can become disabled, stop working and be unable to care for themselves or their families.’ According to the Arthritis Foundation, rheumatoid arthritis affects 2.1 million Americans, mostly women. Musculoskeletal conditions like rheumatoid arthritis annually cost the U.S. economy nearly $65 billion in medical care and indirect expenses, such as lost wages and lost production.