What are the First Signs of Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Over the last two decades, joint pain conditions have become more prevalent in the U.S. and continue to affect the population. It is estimated that more than 1 million Americans suffer from one of the most severe joint disorders, i.e. Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). It occurs as a result of the attack by the patient’s own immune system, leading to insufferable pain, rigidity, and inflammation in different joints of the body. Even though the causes of this autoimmune condition are unknown, it may develop owing to factors such as age (typically affecting middle-aged people or the elderly), gender (more common in females), genetics, infections of the gut/mouth, stress, smoking, etc.
Rheumatoid Arthritis mostly affects the following regions of the body:
- Hands, Fingers & Wrist – A tingling sensation is felt which is usually followed by numbness and restricted range of motion.
- Elbow and Shoulder– There could be some swelling in the elbow(s) along with an uncomfortable sensation of tingling, while the shoulder may experience severe pain and a limited range of motion.
- Neck – Throbbing pain and stiffness can be felt in the neck region, affecting different movements of the neck (like bending, turning, etc.).
- Knee, Hips & Foot – Restricted motion with difficulty in bending the knee along with pain and numbness in the hips. The joints at the base of the toes (heels) can also get affected, causing difficulty in standing and walking.
Apart from the above-mentioned parts of the body, RA may also cause serious issues related to skin, lungs, eyes, and blood vessels.
Signs of Rheumatoid Arthritis
RA can be identified in its early stage through some major signs like:
- Fatigue – Extreme tiredness and lack of energy are the most common experiences for RA patients. This weariness not only influences their everyday physical activities but also affects their psychology – resulting in depression and lower sex drive.
- Slight fever – Following this fatigue, the temperature of the body may increase slightly as a response from the immune system which is an important indicator in diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis.
- Weight loss – Due to the constant fatigue experienced in this condition, the patients may also lose appetite, leading to weight loss.
- Stiffness – Patients usually complain of stiffness in the joints of the fingers (or other parts) that continues for several days. Some people may also experience inflexibility and restricted motion in all the joints of the body.
- Pain, Swelling, Redness, and Warmth in the Joints – The symptoms of inflammation put pressure on the joint capsules and nerve endings, causing pain and swelling in fingers, wrists and feet. The swelling is normally subtle in the initial state but can increase with time. Similarly, the tenderness also adds a red appearance to the skin covering the joints.
- Numbness and Tingling – As we’ve already discussed, tingling and numbering sensations are very common in RA and they are also caused by inflammation (which compresses the nerve and may cause partial or total loss of sensation).
Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis at Advanced Pain Care
Rheumatoid arthritis requires proper diagnosis through a variety of ways to determine the best treatment. These include
- Clinical examinations
- Laboratory tests
- Imaging tests (MRI, X-rays and Ultrasound)
Although there is no permanent cure for RA, it can be managed with a wide range of treatment options to delay or reduce the complications such as:
The type of medicine recommended by your physician will depend on the severity of your condition. Some of the most common medications prescribed by Rhuematologists in Austin include:
- Oral analgesics
- Topical analgesics
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs [NSAIDs]
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs [DMARDs]
- Janus Kinase inhibitor
It’s important to note that not all medicines are recommended to every patient and you’ll be prescribed specific medicines, depending on your condition. For instance, corticosteroids are mostly recommended to those suffering from gout (a disorder of the foot’s pain, stiffness, and inflammation).
In some cases, medication might fail to prevent or treat joint damage and your arthritis doctor may consider surgery to reduce pain and improve the ability of the damaged joints. However, rheumatic illnesses are rarely treated with surgical procedures.
Therapies are additional treatment options that can help in effectively managing RA pain and other associated discomforts. Here is a list of some commonly used therapies:
- Hot and cold therapy
- Physical and Occupational therapy
- Use of assistance devices
- Cognitive behavior therapy
How are Rheumatologists and Orthopedists Different?
It is common for people to confuse rheumatology with orthopedics. Certainly, both these medical specialties deal with joint problems, however; there are some key differences between their practice and approach to treatment.
Rheumatologists specialize in inflammatory autoimmune disorders like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. In other words, they deal with joint pain conditions that are not caused by external factors like an injury, fall or an accident. Surgery is rarely considered by a rheumatologist since the problem relating to the immune system is more likely to respond to medications and therapies.
Orthopedists, on the other hand, deal with joint problems relating directly to the bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, and connective tissues that occur because of injuries and accidents. They treat conditions such as osteoarthritis, nerve pain, sports injuries, osteoporosis, herniated discs, and so forth. One of the primary treatment options considered by an orthopedist is surgical intervention since the root cause of the problems they deal with may require physical removal, repair, or readjustment of bones and tissues.
Now that you’ve all the important information about rheumatoid arthritis at hand, you can identify your condition and contact the best rheumatologist near you to seek timely medical care.