What do approximately 1.3 million adults in the United States have in common? Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a particularly debilitating form of arthritis.
Why does RA happen?
Rheumatoid arthritis is a condition where the body mistakes the cells within the lining of the body’s joints as a danger. The result? The body attacks these locations, causing severe inflammation.
What parts of the body does RA most commonly affect?
Most often, the hands, wrists, and feet are affected with swelling and stiffness. These symptoms come and go. When flare-ups hit, the symptoms can be debilitating.
Is there a cure for RA?
There is no known cure for rheumatoid arthritis. The best forms of treatment are exercise and appropriate medical treatment.
What happens if RA isn’t treated?
If not treated properly, RA may reach bones, cartilage, and joints themselves, resulting in permanent damage.
What are the symptoms of RA?
Thankfully, there are some well-known early warning signs of RA. They should not be ignored since rheumatoid arthritis can have permanent, irreversible effects if left untreated. In other words, spotting and managing RA as soon as possible is the best way to reduce the risk of permanent damage.
So, just what are the signs that this form of arthritis is present? The first sign isn’t one that’s seen, but rather felt…
Constantly feeling tired, even after a full night of sleep? It could be rheumatoid arthritis.
Why does rheumatoid arthritis cause fatigue?
One of the first warning signs of rheumatoid arthritis is a feeling of unexplained fatigue. Why, though?
There are two primary ways that RA causes fatigue. The primary way is as a side effect of inflammation. The second way is as a side effect of RA-related pain. A less-common way this condition creates fatigue is by disrupting sleep, which usually occurs due to debilitating pain.
An RA patient may experience fatigue (and other symptoms) at any point, although they are most potent during flare-ups.
What are the consequences of fatigue?
Besides a lack of energy, fatigue may result in:
- Little to no desire to perform daily activities
- Decreased sexual desire
- Mood swings
Besides fatigue, one of the most common early warning signs of rheumatoid arthritis is the following…
2. Slight Fever
A slightly elevated body temperature of approximately 99.0-100.0° F is another early indicator of this debilitating form of arthritis.
Why does rheumatoid arthritis cause slight fever?
The inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis results in an overall feeling of malaise and the development of a slight fever in the affected individual. Why, though?
The first reason may be that the slight fever is a side effect of inflammation. For those who already have an RA diagnosis, fevers may also result from what medications they are taking.
You see, RA is basically the result of an overactive immune system. So, doctors may prescribe immune-suppressing drugs to help RA patients. However, suppressing the immune system can leave the affected individual at a greater risk of developing an infection. These infections can result in fevers.
When fatigue and fever are accompanied by looser-feeling clothes, the case for RA becomes stronger…
3. Unintended Weight Loss
Unexplained loss of weight without dieting or exercise is one of the more surprising side effects of rheumatoid arthritis. And despite the fact that many people would like to shed a few pounds, this symptom can actually be quite harmful.
Why does rheumatoid arthritis result in unexplained weight loss?
Experts believe RA can cause weight loss in a few ways.
One reason? RA may cause weight loss do to muscle deterioration. Specifically, RA causes the immune system to release cytokines, which are proteins that can cause inflammation. Cytokines can also affect metabolism and help muscles break down.
Other RA symptoms, like pain, may also cause someone to lose their appetite, which may lead to them not eating as much as they normally would. As a result, they may lose weight due to taking in a decreased amount of calories.
Why should RA patients take weight loss seriously?
This symptom isn’t one to take lightly. After all, not eating enough food can mean depriving the body of nutrients, which can result in malnutrition. And malnutrition can mean a host of complications, including a worsening of arthritis. Furthermore, muscle loss can further inhibit an RA patient’s mobility.
The solution? Speaking to a doctor to receive proper medications and performing strength-training exercises to build back lost muscle. As counterintuitive as it might seem, getting up and moving is crucial for combating the following symptom of rheumatoid arthritis…
RA patients commonly exhibit reduced range of motion in their necks and backs as well as in their upper and lower extremities.
Why does rheumatoid arthritis cause stiffness?
Joint pain, tenderness, and stiffness are early signs of rheumatoid arthritis. They are all directly the result of inflammation. Specifically, by inflaming joints, RA can make it difficult for these joints to move easily.
Where does the stiffness occur?
Inflammation and resulting stiffness often occurs first smaller joints such as the fingers. However, stiffness may occur in the:
When does the stiffness occur?
Overall body stiffness is also commonly associated with rheumatoid arthritis. It often occurs when someone has been in a fixed position (sedentary) for a long period of time, such as during sleep. That’s why morning stiffness is one of the main complaints of RA patients.
Closely related to joint stiffness is the following unpleasant sensation…
5. Joint Tenderness
When joints become sensitive to the touch despite no apparent injuries, it could be the result of rheumatoid arthritis.
Why does rheumatoid arthritis cause joint tenderness?
When rheumatoid arthritis inflames tissues that line the joints, nerve irritation can occur. This irritation can mean patients experience a tender sensation when pressing down on the affected area.
What parts of the body are most commonly affected?
The feet and hands are the parts of the body that experience the highest levels of tenderness in most rheumatoid arthritis patients.
- Hands. Patients commonly experience tenderness at the base of the fingers or in the middle of the hand.
- Feet. Patients commonly experience tenderness at the joints at the base of their toes.
What are the consequences of this symptom?
Many RA patients report disrupted sleeping patterns. The reasons? Most commonly, people cite joint tenderness and the following symptom as the primary source of their sleep-related woes…
6. Joint Pain
In some cases, rheumatoid arthritis patients’ joints don’t just feel tender; they can oftentimes feel downright painful. This pain most often occurs when flexing the joints.
Why does rheumatoid arthritis cause joint pain?
Inflammation can result in thickening of tissue (synovium) lining joints. When this thickening occurs, the body may produce extra joint fluids. This extra fluid, in turn, places pressure on the joint capsule (which surrounds the joint), irritating nerve endings. The result? Pain.
Which joints are most commonly affected?
The feet, wrists, and fingers are the joints that are most commonly pained when flexed.
What are the dangers of this symptom?
Unfortunately, the process that creates joint pain in RA patients can also lead to permanent joint damage, which is why this symptom needs to be taken seriously.
Of course, joints might not just feel different; they can look different, too…
7. Joint Swelling
Joints becoming swollen and puffy-looking is perhaps the single-most common sign of rheumatoid arthritis.
Why does rheumatoid arthritis cause joint swelling?
Swelling is a direct result of RA-caused inflammation.
What are the consequences of this symptom?
Joint swelling results in a reduced range of motion in the region of the swollen joint. One common example is that patients who experience swelling in the fingers may find rings difficult to remove.
Swelling isn’t the only visible sign of RA, either…
8. Joint Redness
Is there an area where joints are red and have a rash-like appearance? It might be rheumatoid arthritis.
Why does rheumatoid arthritis cause joint redness?
A red appearance in the joints develops as a result of inflammation, which causes blood vessels to widen and expand. When this expansion happens, blood flow increases in the area, resulting in redness.
What are the complications of this symptom?
In addition to redness, some patients develop a reddish, irritable rash. In some cases, these rashes develop into ulcers on the leg.
On the hands, these rashes typically aren’t harmful so much as they are annoying. They may cause itchiness as well as the following sensation…
9. Joint Warmth
Affected joints that are warm to the touch is another classic symptom of this condition.
Why does rheumatoid arthritis cause joint warmth?
Joint warmth is yet another result of inflammation and it rarely surfaces on its own. In fact, joint warmth is almost always (but not exclusively) associated with swelling, stiffness, and pain.
Why shouldn’t people ignore this symptom?
Joint warmth is one of the preliminary signs of a flare-up or a worsening of the condition, as is the following sensation…
10. Numbness and Tingling
Numbness and tingling is a feeling of “pins and needles” in upper and lower extremities.
Specifically, patients may report feeling a burning sensation or a feeling of “pins and needles” in their hands and feet. Some patients further report that they sometimes cannot feel the floor when they walk. In some cases, there is a complete loss of function of the affected area.
Why does rheumatoid arthritis cause numbness and tingling?
Numbness and tingling associated with rheumatoid arthritis is known as nerve entrapment, which is the compression (or entrapment) of the nerves that results in loss of sensation. This condition may lead to damage to the nerves, specifically stemming from inflammation of blood vessels.
A further sign of RA?…
11. Decreased Range of Motion
Many RA patients are unable to flex their joints fully.
Why does rheumatoid arthritis result in a decreased range of motion?
The wrist is one of the first areas that patients realize a restriction in their range of motion. Specifically, many report difficulty bending the wrist back and forth.
How does that happen?
It’s typically a by-product of swelling, which restricts motion. Pain may also contribute to this symptom. Over time, a lack of motion can result in muscles weakening, which makes movement even more difficult.
What are the complications of this symptom?
Permanent loss of range of motion is possible in joints that have been left untreated for a long time.
Unfortunately, rheumatoid arthritis often doesn’t just affect one area of the body…
12. Both Sides of the Body Affected
Rheumatoid arthritis is often experienced bilaterally, which means it attacks the same joints on both sides of the body.
It is important to note that while most patients experience this condition bilaterally, that is not always the case. So, someone who experiences other worrying signs of RA but only on one side of the body should not rule this condition out as a possible diagnosis.
What’s most important for someone who thinks they have rheumatoid arthritis to know?…
Suspect RA? Get Treated Right Away.
41 out of every 100,000 people are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis every year. Approximately 1.3 million Americans and approximately 1% of the worldwide population have already been diagnosed with this condition.
RA can be painful, even debilitating. Left untreated, it can result in permanent damage, which means getting treated for the condition as soon as possible is key to reducing the chances of such damage.
However, someone first has to be able to know that something is wrong before they can seek treatment.
How common is RA compared to other conditions?
Behind gout and osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is the third-most common type of arthritis and it is more common than lupus, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, and psoriasis.
Who is at greatest risk of RA?
Women are approximately two to three more times likely to be diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis than men. Further, women are more likely to develop the condition at a younger age than men are. That being said, people most commonly develop this condition between the ages of 30 to 60, with the risk of RA only increasing with age.