Are You Experiencing
Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms?

Having arthritis symptoms in general can be quite limiting, but rheumatoid arthritis symptoms can be debilitating. What is rheumatoid arthritis and how does it differ from other arthritis pain? What are the best options for rheumatoid arthritis treatment? What is involved in diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis? The more rheumatoid arthritis information you have, the greater the chances are for you to get control of your pain.

Rheumatoid Arthritis: Autoimmune Disease

Although the most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, it is important to be aware of another form or arthritis: rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In osteoarthritis (OA), the lining of the end of the bone, called the articular cartilage, becomes damaged. Osteoarthritis is most often caused by injury or the typical wear and tear of the joints as we age.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Joints

In contrast, RA is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system malfunctions, attacking its own tissues, and creating chronic inflammation of the tissues that surround joints. Because RA is a systemic disease, it affects multiple joints of the body as well as organs.

RA is more common in women (70%) then in men and is generally diagnosed between the ages of 30 and 50. The cause of RA is not known, although there is some evidence that there is a genetic component. Diagnosis of RA is made via various blood tests, x-rays, ultrasound or MRI, and synovial fluid analysis.

Signs and Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

The severity and frequency of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms varies from person to person. RA is characterized by episodes of ‘flare ups’ and times of remission. During times of remission there can be no symptoms at all. During active flares, joint inflammation causes swelling, pain, stiffness, and redness in the joints. The inflammation of rheumatoid disease can also occur in tissues around the joints, such as the tendons, ligaments, and muscles.

Typical rheumatoid arthritis symptoms includes:

• stiffness of muscles and joints (specifically in the morning)

• diffuse joint pain

• fatigue

• loss of appetite

• fever

Although RA symptoms occur in multiple joints, the most common joints to become affected are the small joints of the hands and feet (click here for rheumatoid arthritis pictures). There also is a pattern to the symptoms in that they are often symmetrical, affecting the same joints on both the left and right sides. Because of the effect on the hands, functional activities such as opening doors and jars become difficult.

Because RA affects people individually, other symptoms can occur including:

• Anemia

• Eye burning, itching, and discharge (due to the effects on glands)

• Hand and feet deformities

• Limited range of motion of joints

• Lung inflammation (pleurisy) with occasional difficulty breathing

• Nodules under the skin (usually a sign of more severe disease)

• Numbness or tingling

• Paleness

• Skin redness or inflammation

How Do You Know if You Have RA?

Diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis can be a complicated process. In addition to a physical exam and a detailed history of your signs and symptoms, a variety of rheumatoid arthritis blood tests are often performed. The most commonly known blood test is for measuring rheumatoid factor. Although the name of the test makes it sound as if it is the definitive diagnostic test, it is a variety of tests that are necessary in order to make an accurate diagnosis.

Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms

Of course there are a variety of medications that are utilized for minimizing RA symptoms. In treating RA, because it is an inflammatory condition, anti-inflammatory medications are commonly prescribed by your doctor, based on your severity and stage. Typical medications can include both steroids (such as Prendisone) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. Utilizing ice therapy can also be helpful in reducing pain and inflammation, specifically when flares have occurred.

Joint protection concepts can help you control your joint pain. Limit activities including bending, lifting, kneeling, and deep squatting to reduce back and leg stress. Equipment, including splints or orthotic devices, are also helpful in supporting and aligning joints. Use a jar opener to help save hand joint stress. The use of a grabber can help reduce low back bending. Finally, wear good supportive shoes to help minimize stress on the joints of the legs and spine.

In addition to medication, consider non-prescription arthritis supplements as an adjunct to your overall treatment program. Supplements can help reduce joint inflammation without the side effects that can occur with prescribed medication.

Physical Therapy Exercise

The emphasis of physical therapy in treating RA involves reducing inflammation, restoring range of motion, and restoring strength and function.

Because symptoms and limitations from RA can vary widely, individualized exercise programs are best prescribed by a physical therapist to help restore ROM and improve function. Research has shown that exercise is effective improving functional ability in patients with RA.

Both aerobic exercise and strengthening exercises should be incorporated into the treatment program. Repetitive exercises such as a stationary bike can be helpful in improving lower extremity joint mobility and improving cardiovascular conditioning. Studies indicate that the type of repetitive motion provided by stationary cycling helps to increase joint synovial fluid, the natural lubricant of the joints.

Arthritis water exercise is also a great exercise choice as muscle strength and aerobic conditioning can be improved with decreased stress on the joints. Local YMCAs often offer arthritis exercise classes.

At a minimum, patients with RA should seek out structured exercises classes, and if possible, seek the guidance of a physical therapist to develop an appropriate exercise program.

Both rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and the disease itself are different then the more common osteoarthritis. Arm yourself with information to keep your rheumatoid arthritis symptoms in check.

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