Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints’ lining. The immune response causes joint inflammation, pain, and stiffness in the joints and is the main differentiating factor between RA and osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis results from mechanical wear and tear on the joints. 1.5 million Americans have rheumatoid arthritis, making it the most experienced autoimmune arthritis. RA often goes beyond just joint pain, and if left untreated, can result in lasting consequences. Here are some of the other most common symptoms and how you can successfully manage living with rheumatoid arthritis.
Common Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic condition mostly affecting the small joints in the hands and feet. RA can also affect your eyes, skin, or lungs. Joint stiffness is worse in the morning, lasting from 1-2 hours or even all day, but gets better with the joints’ movement. In the early stages, there may not be redness or swelling of the joints, but instead just tenderness and pain. Other signs and symptoms of RA include:
- Low fevers
- Loss of appetite
- Dry eyes and mouth
- Rheumatoid nodules are firm lumps that grow beneath the skin in places such as the elbow and hands
- More than one joint is affected
- Same joints on both sides of the body are affected
Diagnosis, Treatment, and Self Care
In the beginning, the symptoms of RA can be mild, making it difficult to diagnose. Also, other viral infections have similar symptoms. It is best to see a doctor specializing in treating arthritis (rheumatologist) to get an accurate diagnosis. There is no single test that can diagnose RA, so your doctor will likely examine the joints, get your medical history, and run blood tests to confirm.
Rheumatoid arthritis can cause irreversible joint damage if left untreated, making early diagnosis vital. Treatments focus on reducing the inflammation as much as possible to relieve symptoms and preserve joint function. There are a variety of medications for the various stages of the disease. In addition to your doctor’s prescribed recommendations, you can take advantage of many self-care tips at home to help reduce flare-ups and better control your RA. Losing weight, balancing movement and rest, and eating a healthy diet are all key to any healthy lifestyle, but can also help in the management of your RA.
RA therapy has come a long way in the last 30 years, but there is still more to learn. No one treatment path works for everyone, and most will need to switch their treatment at least once in their lifetime. Clinical research studies help us identify better ways to diagnose, treat, prevent, and eventually cure RA and many other diseases like it.
If you have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, research studies may be an option for you. To learn more about currently enrolling studies looking into potential new options for RA here at ForCare, call (813) 264-2155, or click here.