Are Your Joint Pains Signs of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)?

December 17, 2010

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis, RA, is an autoimmune disease that begins with inflammation in the lining (synovium) of small joint bones such as those in the fingers, wrist, knees, feet, and ankles (usually affecting both sides of the body evenly). Although categorized as autoimmune, the exact cause, what triggers the onset of rheumatoid arthritis, is not well understood.

Approximately 1% of the world is affected by rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis can happen to anyone at any age, although women are disproportionately affected (three times more likely, possibly due to a correlation with hormones), and onset is more often between ages 40-60.

Joint pains can be related to a number of other illnesses, a doctor can properly diagnose whether it’s joint inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis with a series of tests.

The younger the onset, the more quickly and severely symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are likely to progress. If not quickly and actively treated, rheumatoid arthritis can cause severe joint deterioration. A significant portion of people with rheumatoid arthritis are unable to work after a decade, and many experience a shortened lifespan, in part due to the spread of the disease, and in part due to the harsh effects of rheumatoid arthritis medications (more on that below).

The probability that you will get rheumatoid arthritis depends on a combination of factors. Having a family history increases your chances, and smoking doubles the likelihood that you will develop rheumatoid arthritis. If you have a family history, or have had genetic testing that indicates an increased risk, you should stop smoking.

Viral and bacterial infections are also considered possible triggers; after treating an infection, the immune system may confuse certain cells in the body for invading pathogens, creating severe, chronic inflammation, an otherwise natural immune response.

Initial Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis:

  • Joint Pains, especially when touched
  • Signs of inflammation, including redness and swelling (caused by fluid)
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Joint Stiffness after waking that lasts more than an hour
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Weight-loss
  • Weakness
  • Widespread muscle aches

Joint pains and other symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis may come and go, and are known as “Flare ups”.

Joints affected by rheumatoid arthritis get stiff if not used, and may develop a smaller range of motion than before they were affected.

Helpful To-Dos for Rheumatoid Arthritis Joint Pains:

  • Load up on antioxidants to help fight inflammation. Available in fruits as well as supplements, they “turn off” inflammation or compete for the triggers to turn it on.
  • Avoid foods high in Omega-6, such as fried and fatty foods, since a nutritional imbalance resulting in high levels of Omega-6 triggers inflammation.
  • Evening Primrose Oil is a good source of Gamma-Linoleic acid, a rare essential fatty acid that helps reduce inflammation.
  • Reducing stress may also help reduce inflammation. For more tips on reducing inflammation, click here.
  • Joints may be warm and tender; one helpful treatment for your joints is to alternate them between warm and cold baths or heating/cooling pads.
  • Gentle Exercise, such as water aerobics, may help keep you strong and flexible
  • Maintaining a healthy weight will help relieve pressure on your knees.
  • Buy tools to aid your grip and other joint functions to reduce pain.
  • Physical Therapy, which will teach you how to exercise you joints as well as engage in warm/cold and other therapy techniques.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Medications

The best medications for rheumatoid arthritis have severe side effects that require

doctors to monitor your blood regularly; if you take them consider taking steps to protect your liver, heart, kidneys, and lungs.

Some medications may treat rheumatoid arthritis by weakening your immune system, leaving you at risk for infection (particularly severe hospital acquired infections, if your rheumatoid arthritis requires medical treatment). Other medications, such as anti-inflammatories, may cause stomach bleeding.

Other medical treatments may include surgery, which may mean replacing a joint or correcting severe deformity caused by arthritis.

The best thing to do is to discuss your options with your doctor, and to keep a journal that notes dates and duration of flare ups, as well as symptoms that may be caused by medications. Try to discover which treatments work best for you to relieve pain, and which minimize the occurence and severity of flare ups.

More Severe Symptoms

Rheumatoid arthritis can effect the cartilage and bone of infected joints, as well as weaken and stretch nearby tendons and ligaments. This results in the hand and foot deformities that frequently affect those with rheumatoid arthritis.

Inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis can spread to other joints, including shoulder, hips, neck and elbows. A lot of problems can arise if it affects the spinal cord. Rheumatoid arthritis can also spread to other organs and tissue, although the prevalence of this is difficult to know due to overlapping side effects from medications. About a quarter of people with rheumatoid arthritis will have non-joint related symptoms.

Also:

  • Anemia is common
  • Eye irritation and discharge
  • Fever
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Destruction of veins and arteries (Vasculitis)
  • Various skin diseases

What are good tools and tips for people suffering from Rheumatoid Arthritis? Share in the comments!

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