Of the 5 million people affected by rheumatoid arthritis, women out number men 3 to 1. Knowing the signs and symptoms of this disabling form of arthritis can make a huge difference in the length of time between onset and life-impacting disability.
Although there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, aggressive therapies to slow the progression are available and research is ongoing.
A hyper-vigilant immune system attacking the body joints is a simple description of the disease. The destruction in 33% of sufferers is so disabling that they no longer work after living with the disease for five years. Ten years after onset nearly half are severely functionally disabled. Being a systemic issue, rheumatoid arthritis affects the body in many different areas, most notably the lungs and heart.
Rheumatoid Arthritis: What People Should be Aware of
If your joints are stiff, swollen and painful when you wake up in the morning or after you have been inactive for a long period of time, you want to discuss it with your doctor. The symptoms may go away after an hour or so or with stretching and flexing.
This is the most prominent symptom most people experience at the onset of rheumatoid arthritis. There are non-inflammatory forms of arthritis but they do not include the morning warm, swollen, painfully stiff symptoms.
It is a red flag if fluid seems to build up or there is swelling around three or more joints at the same time. These areas can be any combination of wrists, knuckles, finger joints, knees, ankles or toe joints.
Fatigue, a general sense of not feeling well in addition to the pain, and stiffness of joints are indicators that suggest the presence of rheumatoid arthritis, and a consultation with a physician is prudent.
Diagnostic Procedures for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasounds have greatly improved the early diagnosis of this disease. X-rays tend to not show changes until the damage is significant. The damage done is irreversible, so waiting until it is visible is not recommended.
Since rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, immunological testing is done through blood tests. Unfortunately, a negative rheumatoid factor does not rule out the presence of the disease so the anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide test is also done. Gout, osteoarthritis, systemic lupus, Lyme Disease, reactive arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis need to be ruled out as they all share symptoms of RA.
Therapies include pharmacological, physical and life-style changes individually tailored to accommodate the stage of the rheumatoid arthritis involved.