Understand The Early Signs And Symptoms Of Rheumatoid Arthritis

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The chronic inflammatory disease called rheumatoid arthritis most commonly affects joints in the hands, feet, arms and legs. It initially manifests as pain and swelling, and it ultimately leads to damage to tissue surrounding affected joints. However, serious pain and injury can be avoided if the disease is diagnosed before it can progress too far and treatment is aggressively implemented.

Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Although doctors and scientists currently suspect that genetics play a large role in the appearance of rheumatoid arthritis, the true causes of the disease remain unknown. Medical science has, however, identified rheumatoid arthritis as a disease arising from an autoimmune dysfunction.  Whereas a normal, healthy immune system serves to rid the body of invaders like viruses and bacteria, in rheumatoid arthritis sufferers the immune system goes beyond protecting the body from threats and instead becomes one itself. This is because the immune system begins attacking healthy tissues, particularly the synovium (joint lining), the cartilage that cushions bones at joints and the surrounding ligaments.

Broad Symptoms

At all stages of rheumatoid arthritis, and particularly when the disease is active, sufferers commonly experience fatigue. As a result, emotional wellbeing can decline and affect the sufferers’ relationships with the people around them, including family, friends and coworkers. It can also lead to the loss of appetite and, as a result, a reduction in weight that can become problematic if left unchecked. Such fatigue can stem from sleep deprivation that occurs as a result of pain or due to medications’ side effects. Additionally, it may result from anemia, which occurs when the body’s circulatory system cannot efficiently transport oxygen to cells. This arises as a side effect of inflammation, which reduces the number of red blood cells produced by bone marrow and released into the vascular system. As a result, the sufferer may feel lethargic and lack the necessary energy to go about his or her daily life. Another possible, but uncommon, symptom of rheumatoid arthritis is fever. It typically occurs when the disease is active, but is typically mild. However, because some rheumatoid arthritis treatments inhibit or suppress the immune system, fever can be a symptom of an infection that the body is unable to naturally resist and repel. In such cases, the patient should seek immediate medical attention.

Localized Symptoms

Rheumatoid arthritis often manifests symmetrically, which the same joints on both sides of the body experiencing pain and inflammation. Polyarthritis, the affliction of four or more joints, is very common amongst rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, although some patients experience symptoms in fewer joints (oligoarthritis) or only one (monoarthritis). The latter is common in childhood cases of rheumatoid arthritis. Across these variants, the joints most commonly affected are in the hands and feet, but may also occur in joints farther up the limbs. The foremost symptom of rheumatoid arthritis is, of course, joint pain caused by inflammation. However, pain can also stem from damage to the joint lining, ligaments, cartilage and even bone itself. Pain from these sources occurs when the disease is active but also persists when the disease is in remission. Inflammation of the synovium can also induce tenderness and swelling in affected joints. Nerves around the joint become irritated, resulting in pain when affected area is touched or compressed. Inflammation of the joint lining can also lead to varying degrees of swelling, which in turn can reduce the joint’s strength and range of motion. If left unchecked, rheumatoid arthritis can lead to permanent weakness and limited motion even when the disease is dormant. Redness is another symptom to look for in the skin surrounding joints, which is caused by the dilation of blood vessels around the joint. This can also cause a warm sensation in the afflicted area. Redness and warmth do not necessarily accompany each other, or swelling, but they are indicators that the disease is active. After long periods if immobility or inactivity, inflamed joints tend to become stiff. This is most prominent amongst rheumatoid arthritis sufferers in the morning, just after waking up and getting out of bed. The persistence of stiffness after rising and moving around can be used as a gauge for the severity of a particular joint’s level of inflammation; likewise, a decrease in the length of morning stiffness is a positive sign that treatment is working and reducing the disease’s activity.

Behavioral Symptoms

Limping is another sign that the lower extremities may be affected by rheumatoid arthritis. Pain, a limited range of motion, swelling or any combination of these other symptoms can lead to mobility issues. A painless limp could be an early sign of the disease, especially in children. Rheumatoid arthritis can also cause difficulty in performing normal, everyday tasks. This can arise from limited functionality of joints caused by pain, tenderness and/or swelling. It can also stem from the loss of strength in afflicted joints and the accompanying decrease in motor coordination. If you suspect that these symptoms in yourself or a loved one are signs of rheumatoid arthritis, it is best to consult your doctor as quickly as possible. Left unchecked, this disease can lead to serious damage to the body and a permanent reduction to a person’s health and quality of life. Luckily, advances in rheumatoid arthritis treatment protocols offer great hope for mitigating the disease’s effects if they are diagnosed early.