Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms – All you Must Know about The Risk Factors and Complications
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease. When someone has RA, their immune system mistakenly attacks the joints as well as other organs and tissues.According to Mayo Clinic, the most common rheumatoid arthritis symptoms are directly related to joint damage. Additional symptoms are due to the widespread effects of an overactive immune system.
Common rheumatoid arthritis symptoms
Rheumatoid arthritis is named after its effects on the joints. However, the autoimmune symptoms it causes can affect systems throughout the body.
Joint pain and swelling
The primary symptom of RA is joint pain and swelling. Symptoms usually begin in the smaller joints. RA typically starts in the fingers (knuckles) and wrists. Other joints commonly affected by RA include:
Affected joints may feel warm and spongy to the touch. According to Mayo Clinic, joint damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis symptoms is usually symmetrical. This means that if your left hand is affected, your right hand will be as well.
Symmetrical symptoms are one of the things that distinguish RA from osteoarthritis (OA). Since OA is caused by physical wear and tear on joints, it’s less likely to be symmetrical. OA is the type of arthritis most people associate with aging or an injury that occurred years before.
Fever and fatigue
Although joint pain is the most characteristic symptom of RA, it’s not always the first symptom. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, many people with RA first experience a low-grade fever (under 100°F) and extreme fatigue for several hours after waking up. However, these early signs and symptoms may not be automatically associated with RA. Fever and fatigue can be caused by many other health conditions, even the common cold. There is usually no reason for a doctor to suspect RA until joint symptoms appear.
Prolonged stiffness upon waking is another symptom that can help distinguish RA from other forms of arthritis.
RA is also associated with stiffness after a long period of inactivity, such as sitting. This stiffness usually lasts an hour or more. In general, stiffness from other types of arthritis lasts for shorter periods of time.
According to Mayo Clinic, rheumatoid nodules are hard, flesh-colored lumps that may appear under the skin of the arms. They can range from pea-sized to walnut-sized. They may be either movable or firmly connected to tendons under the skin. The nodules tend to occur at points of pressure, like the elbows or heels. Rheumatoid nodules are a symptom of advanced RA.
Other symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
RA can affect a number of organs throughout the body. However, this type of damage is not common, and is less common now with more effective treatments available. The symptoms below are associated with more severe or advanced disease.
Dry mouth and eyes
Rheumatoid arthritis is often associated with Sjogren’s disease. This is a condition where the immune system attacks the salivary glands and tear ducts. It can cause:
- dry or gritty sensations in the eyes, mouth, and throat
- cracked or peeling lips
- difficulty talking or swallowing
- dental damage
Some people with RA also experience other discomfort in their eyes, including:
- light sensitivity
Pleurisy is a severe tightness or sharp pain in the chest when breathing. It’s caused by inflammation of the membrane surrounding the lungs.
Advanced RA can cause severe joint damage, if left untreated. The hands and fingers may bend at unnatural angles. This could give them a gnarled and twisted appearance. Such joint deformities can also interfere with movement. Other joints that may become damaged in this way include the:
- neck (C1-C2 bone or vertebrae level)
Signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis may include:
- Tender, warm, swollen joints
- Joint stiffness that is usually worse in the mornings and after inactivity
- Fatigue, fever and weight loss
- Early rheumatoid arthritis tends to affect your smaller joints first — particularly the
- joints that attach your fingers to your hands and your toes to your feet.
As the disease progresses, symptoms often spread to the wrists, knees, ankles, elbows, hips and shoulders. In most cases, symptoms occur in the same joints on both sides of your body.
About 40 percent of the people who have rheumatoid arthritis also experience signs and symptoms that don’t involve the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect many non-joint structures, including:
- Salivary glands
- Nerve tissue
- Bone marrow
- Blood vessels
Rheumatoid arthritis signs and symptoms may vary in severity and may even come and go. Periods of increased disease activity, called flares, alternate with periods of relative remission — when the swelling and pain fade or disappear. Over time, rheumatoid arthritis can cause joints to deform and shift out of place.
After explaining rheumatoid arthritis symptoms above, we also would like to mention factors that may increase your risk of rheumatoid arthritis include:
Your sex. Women are more likely than men to develop rheumatoid arthritis.
Age. Rheumatoid arthritis can occur at any age, but it most commonly begins between the ages of 40 and 60.
Family history. If a member of your family has rheumatoid arthritis, you may have an increased risk of the disease.
Smoking. Cigarette smoking increases your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, particularly if you have a genetic predisposition for developing the disease. Smoking also appears to be associated with greater disease severity.
Environmental exposures. Although uncertain and poorly understood, some exposures such as asbestos or silica may increase the risk for developing rheumatoid arthritis. Emergency workers exposed to dust from the collapse of the World Trade Center are at higher risk of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Obesity. People who are overweight or obese appear to be at somewhat higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, especially in women diagnosed with the disease when they were 55 or younger.
Rheumatoid arthritis increases your risk of developing:
Osteoporosis. Rheumatoid arthritis itself, along with some medications used for treating rheumatoid arthritis, can increase your risk of osteoporosis — a condition that weakens your bones and makes them more prone to fracture.
Rheumatoid nodules. These firm bumps of tissue most commonly form around pressure points, such as the elbows. However, these nodules can form anywhere in the body, including the lungs.
Dry eyes and mouth. People who have rheumatoid arthritis are much more likely to experience Sjogren’s syndrome, a disorder that decreases the amount of moisture in your eyes and mouth.
Infections. The disease itself and many of the medications used to combat rheumatoid arthritis can impair the immune system, leading to increased infections.
Abnormal body composition. The proportion of fat compared to lean mass is often higher in people who have rheumatoid arthritis, even in people who have a normal body mass index (BMI).
Carpal tunnel syndrome. If rheumatoid arthritis affects your wrists, the inflammation can compress the nerve that serves most of your hand and fingers.
Heart problems. Rheumatoid arthritis can increase your risk of hardened and blocked arteries, as well as inflammation of the sac that encloses your heart.
Lung disease. People with rheumatoid arthritis have an increased risk of inflammation and scarring of the lung tissues, which can lead to progressive shortness of breath.
Lymphoma. Rheumatoid arthritis increases the risk of lymphoma, a group of blood cancers that develop in the lymph system.
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