What are the Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive inflammatory disease. The symptoms that are associated with rheumatoid arthritis can come and go, because this disease affects everyone a little differently. In some cases, a patient may go extended periods without experiencing any severe symptoms (this is a period of remission where the disease goes inactive). Other people with rheumatoid arthritis may have to cope with their symptoms on a near 24 hour basis for months on end with no significant relief (however, there are a wide variety of treatments available for RA). If you have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, then you may be interested in taking part in one of the many RA clinical trials being conducted around the country.
Depending on the individual, this autoimmune disease could affect various areas of the patient’s body, but there is one constant amongst these cases. Rheumatoid arthritis always attacks the joints. During an RA flare-up, the patient’s affected joints will become inflamed (painful swelling). As you may be aware, inflammation is how the body will naturally react to infections or other “invading threats”. Unfortunately, since rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, it induces inflammation for what were relatively unknown reasons and at random times.
Joint Inflammation Associated with Rheumatoid Arthritis
Inflammation in the joints of a patient has always been a characterizing factor associated with this chronic disease. As the disease progresses, this inflammation can become increasingly more debilitating to the patient. It will include:
• Swelling: As fluid enters the area surrounding the joint, it will begin to swell and become puffy. Intense swelling can make the affected joints feel even stiffer.
• Pain: The inflammation that is caused by RA can become quite severe. Normally, a joint that is inflamed will become quite sensitive and tender. However, long-term inflammation within these joints can cause permanent damage and an excruciating amount of pain.
• Stiffness: Most people who have lived longer than twenty years have experienced a little stiffness now and then. You may wake up one morning and find that it seems more difficult to move one of your joints and your range of motion seems limited. In fact, this morning stiffness is another trademark characteristic of RA. For some people who have been diagnosed with this chronic disease, it can take hours to recover from this early day stiffness.
• Redness and Warmth: Rheumatoid arthritis will cause affected joints to take on a separate appearance than what is normal. The inflamed joint could start to look a bit pink or reddish compared to the surrounding skin, and it could be a bit warmer to the touch.
When it comes to which joints are affected by this disease and which aren’t, it again changes from case to case. For one, the small joints in the hand are almost always affected in some way, but truth be told, this disease can affect almost any joint in the human body. So anything from your wrists, shoulders, knees, elbows, and even your jaw could become inflamed due to rheumatoid arthritis. Interestingly, research has shown that in most cases, the joints are affected in a symmetrical fashion, meaning the disease will affect the same joints on both sides of the patient’s body.
Other Symptoms Associated with RA
This chronic disease can affect much more than just the patient’s joints. These other symptoms are the results of how inflammation occurs in the body, and so it leads to a greater variety of symptoms which can occur. Unfortunately, these symptoms can be easily mistaken as signs of the flu, except that these will last much longer. These other symptoms can include:
• A general feeling of malaise
• Loss of appetite and unusual weight loss
• Abnormal pain in the muscles
As with other medical conditions, rheumatoid arthritis can be more severe or mild from case to case. RA symptoms that are manifesting in various places of the body tend to be more common amongst patients who have moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis. Still other things to look out for include:
• The Skin: Rheumatoid arthritis can sometimes cause these little bumps, or nodules, to appear on the patient’s elbows and in some other locations. These RA nodules can be quite sensitive to the touch.
• The Throat: On rare occasions, this disease has attacked a joint that is located within larynx, or voice box. It will cause a person to sound quite hoarse when speaking.
• The Lungs: Unfortunately, involvement of the lung is not entirely uncommon for RA. This is sometimes the result of long-term inflammation in the lining surrounding the lungs, or some prior damage to the lungs. Fortunately, this shortness of breath can be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs.
• The Eyes: This is a lot rarer, less than 5%, but sometimes rheumatoid arthritis can affect a patient’s eyesight. If the eyes are affected by RA, potential signals include eyeballs that are tender, red, or quite dry.
• The Heart: This chronic disease is capable of inducing some swelling around the lining of a patient’s heart. Unfortunately, inflammation in this area might not produce any noticeable symptoms. Some symptoms that can occur include unusual chest pain and shortness of breath. Further research has shown that people who do have rheumatoid arthritis also have a higher risk for clogged arteries and heart attacks.
If you feel like you may be experiencing any of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, then please do not hesitate to talk to your doctor about it. RA can be difficult to diagnose, but an aggressive line of treatment applied at an earlier stage could help to prevent further disease progression and permanent joint damage.