Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects more than 1.3 million Americans. RA is a form of autoimmune disease, meaning that the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells and tissues instead of protecting them from foreign invaders. As a result, those affected by RA may experience pain, stiffness, swelling, and limitation in the motion and function of multiple joints. Knowing the signs and symptoms of RA can help you identify if you or someone close to you is suffering from this condition.
The earliest signs of RA usually involve joint pain, tenderness, stiffness, and swelling in the hands, wrists, elbows, knees, ankles, or feet. These early signs often occur on both sides of your body—for example, if one wrist hurts, then it is likely that the other will, too—and they can appear suddenly or gradually over time. In some cases, there may be a period where these symptoms come and go before they become persistent. Other early signs include fatigue, low-grade fever, loss of appetite, or weight loss due to lack of appetite.
In addition to joint pain and stiffness, there are several other common symptoms associated with RA that may indicate increased severity or progression in the condition. For example, some people may experience a decrease in range-of-motion in their joints due to inflammation which can cause difficulties performing everyday tasks such as brushing their teeth or buttoning clothes. Joint deformities can also occur due to prolonged inflammation, which can cause deformities such as clawed toes or fingers, which make gripping objects difficult or impossible for those affected by RA. Additionally, specific organs, such as the eyes, may also become inflamed, leading to redness in the eyes or blurred vision.
If any combination of these symptoms is present, it’s essential to seek medical attention immediately so an accurate diagnosis can be made, and appropriate treatment prescribed. Your doctor will likely begin by asking questions about your medical history, including any family history related to rheumatic illnesses, before ordering blood tests that can help detect antibodies associated with RA, like rheumatoid factor (RF) or cyclic citrullinated peptide (CCP). Imaging scans such as X-rays or MRI may also be ordered so your doctor can view any changes in bone structure that have occurred due to inflammation caused by RA.
Once a diagnosis has been confirmed, then medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids (steroids), disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), biologics, Oral small molecule drugs and physical therapy may be prescribed depending on your individual needs and preferences for treatment options.
If you believe you may have RA or if any of the signs or symptoms described above are present, it’s essential to see a doctor immediately, as early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent further joint damage and disability. Additionally, seeing your doctor regularly for follow-up appointments to monitor the progression of RA is an integral part of managing this condition. With the right combination of medications, lifestyle modifications, and support, those affected by RA can still lead active, healthy lives despite this condition.
In addition to following a treatment plan prescribed by your doctor, it’s also essential to stay educated on the signs and symptoms of RA so you can recognize any changes in the condition. Additionally, support from family and friends is an essential part of managing this condition, as those suffering from RA can often feel isolated or overwhelmed due to the symptoms they’re experiencing. Researching local support groups or connecting with other people affected by RA can help provide encouragement, advice, and a sense of community to those living with this condition. By staying educated about your situation and engaging in supportive activities, you can better understand how to manage your RA and live a healthier, happier life.
Research is continuously being conducted on new treatments and medications for RA as scientists work to find more effective ways to manage this condition. Additionally, advancements in technology, such as 3D printing, have made custom-made braces or splints available to those affected by RA, which can help with joint pain and deformities. As researchers continue to explore new ways to treat RA, there is hope that those affected by this condition can look forward to a brighter future.
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis early on is essential for receiving proper care and treatment. Suppose you have noticed any combination of joint pain/stiffness/swelling/fatigue/loss of appetite/low-grade fever/joint deformities/eye redness/blurred vision. In that case, it’s essential to speak with your healthcare provider immediately so an accurate diagnosis can be made, followed by appropriate treatments being prescribed so you can manage your case effectively over time with support from medical professionals who understand your unique needs best.