Rheumatoid Arthritis

Signs & Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

You may have heard of rheumatoid arthritis, but what exactly is it? Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disorder that primarily affects the joints. The condition can create significant discomfort and, when left untreated, can negatively affect your quality of life. In this article, we will be diving into RA signs and symptoms that you should be aware of. 

What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition, which means your immune system gets a bit confused and starts attacking your own body. While RA primarily targets your joints, it doesn’t stop there; it can affect other parts of your body, such as your skin, eyes, and even your heart. (Source)

Why You Should Know About the Signs and Symptoms

If you are at risk of developing RA, the sooner you recognize the signs and symptoms, the better your chances of managing this condition effectively. Early diagnosis can make a world of difference in how you feel day-to-day and in the long run. Plus, RA isn’t a one-size-fits-all disease; it manifests differently in each affected person. So, whether you’re just starting to learn about autoimmune conditions or you’re well into your journey, understanding these signs is crucial. (Source)

Who Does Rheumatoid Arthritis Affect?

As with other autoimmune disorders, women are more likely to be affected by rheumatoid arthritis. However, RA doesn’t discriminate and can affect anyone, regardless of gender. Some other factors, though, such as genetics and environmental exposures, can also play roles.

  • gender: RA tends to affect women more than men — research has found that women are about 3 times more likely to develop RA compared to men. 
  • family history: Genetics can play a crucial role in the onset of rheumatoid arthritis. If the condition runs in your family, you might be more susceptible. It’s important to know your family medical history and share that information with your health care provider. 
  • environmental factors: Certain environmental triggers can contribute to the development of RA. One significant factor is smoking, which research has found to be the environmental trigger most likely to increase RA risk. 

(Source, Source

Early Signs: The Subtle Red Flags

Navigating the world of autoimmune conditions can be overwhelming, especially when you’re trying to understand what’s happening in your body. Let’s break down the signs and symptoms of RA together, so you can be better informed and empowered.

Understanding the Early Symptoms 

Early symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are often nonspecific and can easily be mistaken for signs of general fatigue or aging. Importantly, you might experience: 

  • unexplained weight loss: Unintentional weight loss can be associated with many types of chronic illness, including RA.
  • mild fever: A low-grade, persistent fever is another early sign of RA. It is your body’s initial reaction to inflammation, and it’s crucial not to dismiss it.
  • persistent fatigue: Tiredness that does not get better with rest is another nonspecific symptom that is typical of early RA.
  • muscle or joint pain or stiffness: May be worst first thing in the morning, and may come and go and move from one area to another.

(Source, Source)

The Challenges in Early Detection 

One of the reasons early symptoms are easy to overlook is because they often come and go. You might not think much of a little muscle stiffness, assuming you just slept wrong or overdid it at the gym. But if these symptoms persist or return again and again, it might be an early sign of RA. 

Plus, symptoms such as fatigue and minor joint pain can easily be attributed to other causes: stress, lack of sleep, or even your diet. Unexplained weight loss could be glossed over as a welcome change, the result of recent diet modifications or increased exercise. However, if these changes occur without a clear cause, they warrant attention and possibly medical evaluation. 

Joint Symptoms: More Than Just Aches and Pains 

While early signs of RA can be nonspecific, as the disease progresses symptoms become more clearly focused on the joints. Remember, painful joints aren’t always just the result of aging or a long day. Here’s what to look out for: 

  • joint pain and swelling: Persistent pain in multiple joints as well as noticeable swelling around joints, particularly those in the hands, wrists, and feet. 
  • joint symmetry: Unlike other forms of arthritis, RA usually affects the same joints on both sides of the body, a characteristic known as symmetry. For instance, if one of your wrists or knees is inflamed, the other one likely will be, too.
  • progressive stiffness: Over time, joint stiffness may become more pronounced and long-lasting. This stiffness is often worse in the mornings or after periods of inactivity and may last for hours.

Why Symptoms Are Easy to Overlook

The tricky part is that these symptoms can be easily dismissed. You might think you’re just tired because you had a long day, or that your joints are stiff from sitting too long. But it’s crucial to listen to your body as these could be early indicators of RA. (Source)

Extra-Articular Symptoms: Beyond the Joints

Rheumatoid arthritis doesn't stop at the joints. It can affect your body in other ways, such as:

  • eyes: dryness, pain, or even vision changes
  • skin: rheumatoid nodules (firm lumps under the skin)
  • lungs: shortness of breath or persistent coughing
  • brain fog: difficulty concentrating or feeling “out of it”
  • fatigue: a kind of tiredness that doesn’t go away with rest

(Source, Source)

It’s worth noting that cigarette smoking increases the risk both of RA-associated lung diseases and of developing RA in the first place. Additionally, inflammation in women with RA has been associated with depressive symptoms, emphasizing the importance of holistic care. (Source, Source)

Debunking Common Myths About Rheumatoid Arthritis

Navigating the world of RA can be challenging, especially when you’re bombarded with misinformation. Let’s set the record straight by debunking some common myths about RA. Whether you’re new to this or have been researching for a while, this section aims to clear up some misconceptions you might have.

Myth 1: RA Is Just an “Old Person's Disease”

Contrary to popular belief, RA can affect people of all ages, including children and young adults. It’s not just an “old person's disease.” Rheumatoid arthritis incidence does increase with age, but often occurs between the ages of about 25 to 50 years. This is considered “young onset RA,” which affects far more women than men. “Late onset RA” strikes after the age of 60 to 65, is more evenly divided among men and women, tends to be more severe, and is often undertreated. (Source)

Myth 2: RA Only Affects Your Joints

As we’ve discussed earlier, RA is a systemic disease that can affect various parts of your body including your skin and eyes, and may reduce your energy level. (Source)

Myth 3: If You Have RA, You Shouldn’t Exercise

Actually, moderate exercise can be beneficial for people with RA, as it can help improve joint function and overall well-being. If you have RA, work together with your health care provider to design an exercise regimen tailored to your needs. (Source)

Myth 4: RA Is Not a Serious Condition

RA is a chronic, progressive disease that can lead to joint deformities and other complications if not managed effectively. It’s essential to take your symptoms seriously and seek appropriate care.

How WellTheory Can Help: Your Partner in Managing Rheumatoid Arthritis

Now that we’ve explored the signs, symptoms, and myths surrounding rheumatoid arthritis, let’s talk about how WellTheory can be your trusted partner on your journey to managing this condition.

  • personalized care: WellTheory understands that one size doesn't fit all when it comes to managing RA. That’s why we offer personalized care plans tailored to your unique needs. 
  • holistic lifestyle changes: Rheumatoid arthritis doesn’t just affect your joints; it can impact various aspects of your life. Our approach is grounded in evidence-based best practices that emphasize the role of diet, stress management, movement, community, and sleep quality. 
  • your health, your way: Living with RA means facing different challenges at different times. That’s why our care plans are designed to adapt to your changing needs. Whether you want to focus on managing your stress or reducing your symptoms, we’re here to support you every step of the way.

The Bottom Line

We understand that living with RA or suspecting that you may have it can be a daunting experience. Whether you’ve been living with the condition for some time or are just starting to explore the possibility, seeking professional guidance is a crucial first step. Don’t hesitate to consult a health care provider if you suspect RA or if you’re experiencing symptoms.

At WellTheory, we are committed to supporting you on your journey to better health. We understand that RA affects not only your joints but many aspects of your life, and you don’t have to navigate this journey alone. WellTheory is here to provide you with compassionate, evidence-based guidance that empowers you to take control of your health. We’re committed to helping you lead a fulfilling life, despite the challenges of RA.

Reference

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