Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common type of autoimmune arthritis and affects about 1.5 million people in the United States, with nearly three times as many women suffering from the disease as men. However, over the years treatments have improved greatly and helped many people who are affected. Studies show that when rheumatoid arthritis is caught early and patients receive treatment soon after the first signs appear, they are more likely to continue leading an active life. It’s crucial that you’re aware of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis so that you can get treatment as soon as possible. Continue reading to learn more about rheumatoid arthritis and how to identify its symptoms.
What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints which causes inflammation and the thickening of synovium, or the fluid that lubricates the joints. This results in a lot of swelling and pain in and around the joints. If rheumatoid arthritis isn’t treated, it can continue to progress and damage the cartilage that covers the ends of the bones.
Rheumatoid arthritis typically begins in the smaller joints like the joints in your fingers and feet. Some of the most common symptoms you’ll experience include the following:
- Tender, warm, or swollen joints
- Joint stiffness in the morning that sometimes lasts for hours
- Rheumatoid nodules, or firm bumps of tissue under the skin on your arms
- Loss of appetite or weight loss
As the arthritis progresses, these symptoms often spread to your wrists, knees, ankles, elbows, hips, and shoulders. The joint effect is symmetrical, so you’ll usually notice that these symptoms occur in the same joints on both sides of the body. If one wrist or ankle is affected, usually the other one is too.
Signs and symptoms will likely vary in severity and typically come and go. A period where you experience a lot of inflammation and pain is called a flare and can last for days or months.
Rheumatoid doesn’t only affect the joints in the body, it also affects body systems such as the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. It can damage the tissue surrounding the joints, as well as the eyes, heart, and lungs.
It can also cause the following:
- Dry, red eyes, sensitivity to light, and impaired vision
- Dry mouth, gum irritation, or infection
- Inflammation of blood vessels
- Anemia (low number of red blood cells)
In women, rheumatoid arthritis commonly begins between the ages of 30 and 60, while in men it generally occurs later in life. Having a family member with rheumatoid arthritis increases your odds of developing the disease, however, the majority of people who have rheumatoid arthritis don’t have a family history.
It’s important that you’re aware of the signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, so that you can contact a doctor as soon as possible if you ever start to experience them.
To learn about how rehabilitation and non-operative methods can help relieve arthritis pain, click here to download our eBook, The Patient’s Guide to Non-Operative Care and Rehabilitation.