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Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic disorder resulting from an inflammation of the membranes or tissues that line the joints, typically in the hands and feet, that generally develops in an individual between the ages of forty and sixty. Over time, RA can destroy the cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and bone surrounding the joint. In more severe cases, it may cause damage to organs and other parts of the body, including the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, blood and nerves.

Although it shares some symptoms with osteoarthritis, there are key differences as it can develop at any age and be accompanied by seemingly unrelated symptoms such as fatigue. There are many possible RA causes, and all of them are not completely known or understood. It is an autoimmune disorder, which means the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues. About one percent of the world’s population suffers from RA, and seventy percent more women than men develop the disease. Clinical diagnosis is based on symptoms, physical exam, x-rays, and labs (blood tests). Typically, a rheumatologist (an expert in autoimmune diseases) performs the diagnosis and long-term management. To manage the complications and reduce risk factors of RA, it’s important to recognize problems early and begin appropriate rheumatoid arthritis treatment.

Early Symptoms

Early RA symptoms affect the smaller joints in the wrists, hands, and feet, and in most cases the same joints on both sides of the body. The most prominent symptom is joint inflammation. Inflammation is the body’s natural response to infection or other threats, but in RA, it occurs inappropriately and for unknown reasons. Joint inflammation causes several symptoms, the first being stiffness. Stiffness means the joint is harder to use and has a limited range of motion. This may occur most often after sleeping and is known as morning stiffness but can develop after any extended period of inactivity. While those with other forms of arthritis experience morning stiffness, it takes those with RA an hour to several hours before their joints loosen. RA inflammation also causes swelling, by allowing fluid to enter the joint cavities. This leads to puffiness and also contributes to the stiffness. One of the more intolerable RA symptoms is the pain. The inflammation causes joint tenderness and sensitivity, and prolonged inflammation contributes to more severe pain. The final common symptom is redness and warmth. The joints can appear more pink or red than usual, as well as feel warmer, or feverish to the touch.

Long-Term Symptoms

RA is a chronic (long-term) disease, during which some people have long periods of remission when the disease is inactive and few or no symptoms occur. Others may have near-constant symptoms, or flare-ups, for months at a stretch. As the disease progresses, the shoulders, elbows, knees, hips, jaw and neck also can be affected. Twenty to thirty-five percent of adults with RA get rheumatoid nodules, which are firm, flesh-colored lumps that grow under the skin, close to the affected joints. They can be as large as a walnut or small as a pea. Most often, there is no pain associated with the nodules. The degree to which RA symptoms affect daily activity depends in part on following strict treatment and coping mechanisms. Studies show that those who take control of their treatment long-term and actively manage their arthritis experience less symptoms and require fewer doctor visits. Long-term RA symptoms make one prone to fatigue and muscle weakness. It’s important to rest when tired. Joint destruction may occur within one or two years after the disease appears. In severe cases, over time, joints can lose their range of motion completely and may become deformed.

Featured Image: depositphotos/Hriana

Posted on May 5, 2023