What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disorder that causes pain and swelling in your body’s joints. As an autoimmune disorder, rheumatoid arthritis occurs when your immune system begins to mistakenly attack bodily tissues. If left untreated, the inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis can cause debilitating damage to other parts of the body such as both shoulders and both feet. This symmetry helps set the condition apart from other types of arthritis by its unique symptoms.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms
Often seen in patients between the ages of 30 and 50, rheumatoid arthritis can occur in people in their adolescence. Signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis may include but are not limited to fatigue, fever, weight loss, swollen joints, and joint stiffness that is usually worse in the mornings and after inactivity. Early rheumatoid arthritis tends to affect your smaller joints first, particularly in your fingers and toes. As the disease progresses, symptoms often spread to the wrists, knees, ankles, elbows, hips, and shoulders. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect many non-joint structures as well, which include the eyes, skin, lungs, heart, kidneys, nerve tissue, bone marrow, and blood vessels.
Rheumatoid arthritis can be difficult to diagnose in its early stages because many signs and symptoms mimic those of other diseases. Little is known about what causes rheumatoid arthritis but physicians commonly begin by asking about your medical history to help narrow down the likeliness of its development. A physical exam will check your joints for swelling, tenderness, and range of motion. Some diagnosis processes may require blood tests to look for elevated levels of certain proteins and antibodies such as rheumatoid factor, anti-CCP, and antinuclear antibodies, which may indicate rheumatoid arthritis’ presence. Images can be taken of your joints to help track the progression of rheumatoid arthritis over time. X-rays, ultrasound tests, and MRIs can all help your doctor better judge the severity of the disease in your body.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment
There is still much to be learned about rheumatoid arthritis and there is no solidified cure. However, when treatment begins early with strong medications known as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, remission of the symptoms is more likely to occur. More commonly, patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis can also take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs, as directed by your doctor, to help ease arthritis pain and inflammation.