Rheumatoid Arthritis Ra Symptoms

Early rheumatoid arthritis symptoms are often mistaken for osteoarthritis, which requires different methods of treatment. Osteoarthritis attacks joints by gradually wearing them down, while rheumatoid arthritis is a disease of the immune system that causes joint pain and other damage primarily through inflammation.

Rheumatoid arthritis can be chronic, or the disease can cycle through periods of activity and dormancy. Active periods can last from months to years.

Initial Symptoms: Joint Pain and Swelling

Early warning signs of rheumatoid arthritis include joint pain, inflammation and mobility loss which are all symptoms common to both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. However, in rheumetoid arthritis, affected sites may swell or become red. Morning joint stiffness is also quite common in rheumatoid arthritis and generally lasts over 30 minutes.

Rheumatoid arthritis also tends to be symmetric: It typically affects joints on both sides of the body. In other words, rheumatoid arthritis affecting one hand, will also typically affect the other. In part, this may be because rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disease of the immune system. Symmetry is less likely to develop in osteoarthritis, which is often the result of injury or “wear and tear.”

Note however, that rheumatoid arthritis is not always symmetric: A sufferer can experience inflammation in one joint and not in its partner.

Secondary Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

In addition to symptoms such as joint pain, a person with rheumatoid arthritis may experience symptoms that most people wouldn’t associate with arthritis. Such symptoms may include:

  • fatigue
  • fever
  • dry eyes and mouth
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • color changes to toes or fingers
  • rheumatoid nodules.

Rheumatoid nodules are lumps that develop under the skin. They are painless and tend to appear on areas of the body where pressure is often exerted (such as on the elbows or heels).

Joint Deformation

Untreated, rheumatoid arthritis can cause joints to become severely deformed, especially the hands and feet. This deformation may be accompanied by a loss of mobility and joint flexibility. Early treatment intervention can slow the deterioration of the joints.

Rheumatoid Arthritis, the Immune System and Internal Organs

Rheumatoid arthritis can affect internal organs as well as the joints with inflammation spreading from the joints into the surrounding area. Because rheumatoid arthritis is a disease of the immune system, inflammation of the heart, lungs, eyes, skin or nerves may occur.

Lung or heart inflammation often manifests itself as chest pain. Heart muscle inflammation pain may vary in intensity, depending on body position; lying down or standing up will change pain intensity. Lung inflammation pain may be accompanied by coughing, and rheumatoid nodules can develop in the lungs.

Vasculitis

A rare symptom of rheumatoid arthritis is vasculitis, the inflammation of the blood vessels. Vasculitis can reduce the blood supply to tissues and cause organ damage, cell death and strokes. It requires prompt medical attention.

Diagnosing Rheumatoid Arthritis

During the initial diagnosis for possible rheumatoid arthritis, the doctor will ask many questions. Expect to explain where you experience joint pain, how long you have had the symptoms and whether there is a history of arthritis in your family. Your doctor will physically examine affected joints, noting mobility, swelling and signs of redness.

X-rays may be used to determine whether any damage has been done to the joints. An x-ray also offers clues to the type of arthritis, as the damage done by osteoarthritis is noticeably different from rheumatoid arthritis damage.

Blood tests are used to detect a specific antibody in the blood called rheumatoid factor. Eighty percent of people with rheumatoid arthritis have this antibody in their bloodstream. Its presence does not automatically signify rheumatoid arthritis, but it does suggest the possibility.

A synovial fluid analysis may also be ordered. This test involves drawing synovial fluid out of the joint to test it for bacteria, abnormal enzymes, blood and other substances. The area where the needle is inserted is first numbed with a local anesthetic.

Resources

Arthritis Foundation. (updated 2004). Rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Ebrahimi, S. (1999). Rheumatoid arthritis.

National Library of Medicine. (updated 2004). Rheumatoid arthritis. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.

Shiel, W.C. (reviewed 2002). Rheumatoid arthritis. MedicineNet, Inc.

Wright, K. (2001). Rheumatoid arthritis. Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine.