Rheumatoid arthritis, sometimes referred to as RA, is an inflammatory and autoimmune disease characterized by painful swelling. This swelling occurs due to your immune system mistakenly attacking healthy cells in your body. At RightPath Pain & Spine Centers in Davenport, FL, we understand the importance of treating this painful condition as early as possible. That’s why we’re looking at the first signs that you suffer from the condition.
What Are the First Signs of Rheumatoid Arthritis?
In the early stage of this disease, symptoms are usually mild. It is not uncommon for people who suffer from RA to experience only a general feeling of unwellness and sudden fatigue. Other early warning signs include weakness in particular body regions that didn’t previously exist and pain and tenderness in particular body regions.
What Are the Signs of Late Stage RA?
As this disease develops, the symptoms tend to get more severe. Everyone with this condition has a unique experience, but you should not be surprised to feel:
- Joint swelling
- Joint warmth
- Chronic fatigue
- Morning stiffness
- General joint stiffness and pain
- Tingling and numbness
- Reduced range of motion
Morning stiffness is a common symptom of several types of arthritis, including late-stage RA. There is a chance you are having an RA flare-up if some of your joints are stiff when you first arise, and the stiffness does not abate after half of an hour. Often, stiffness does not ease until there is a long period of activity. For example, if you wake up with stiff knees, you may need to walk for an hour before your knees start to feel more mobile.
Fatigue is a very common sign of late-stage RA because your body uses a lot of energy to fight inflammation. If you struggle to do things you once did easily, like run a few miles or go for a leisurely bike ride around your neighborhood, you may not be generally tired.
Your body may be fighting hard against a perceived threat. Also, people suffering from a late-stage RA flare-up often have an extreme sense of general unwellness and sometimes feel depressed.
Reduced Range of Motion
Another common sign of late-stage RA is a severely reduced range of motion. People who suffer from this inflammatory disease often find that they can no longer extend their joints as far as they once could because the condition can result in ligament and tendon deformity. In some cases, it can even result in bone deformity.
Some people with this condition find that their range of motion returns after taking an NSAID or corticosteroid to ease their joint pain. However, it is possible that you will one day no longer be able to straighten or bend your joints like you once could due to a deformity in your tendon, ligament, or bone.
Numbness and Tingling
Numbness and tingling often accompany a late-stage RA flare-up because when tendons are attacked by the immune system and become inflamed, a significant amount of pressure is applied to the nerves. Depending on where the flare-up is occurring, people with RA can even experience carpal tunnel syndrome and feel a burning sensation in their hands.
It is not uncommon for people who are experiencing an RA flare-up to get a low-grade fever. This is because your immune system is activated when your body temperature rises. The elevated body temperature helps your immune system cells work faster.
Joint Pain and Stiffness
Although it is most common during an RA flare-up to experience moderate-to-severe morning stiffness, it is possible to experience general joint pain and stiffness. Generally, this symptom flares up after a significant period of inactivity, such as sitting at your desk for hours on end. If you are experiencing pain or stiffness in your joints while at your sedentary job, make sure you get up every 30 minutes and stretch or go for a short walk.
Note, most of the time, RA affects the joints in your hands, feet, and wrists. However, it is possible that the joints in your shoulders and back are attacked. Regardless of where you are experiencing stiffness and pain, consider whether you are experiencing any other symptoms on this list, too. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, you need to be treated as soon as possible to mitigate the risk of severe complications.
Warmth, Redness, or Swelling in Joints
You may be having an RA flare-up if your joints appear red and feel warm to the touch. You also may experience uncomfortable swelling in the area that your immune system is attacking.
What Are the Risk Factors of Developing This Condition?
Sex is one of the most significant rheumatoid arthritis risk factors. Men are less likely than women to suffer from this disease. Age is another significant risk factor. Most commonly, this condition starts to develop in middle age. Also, you are far more likely to develop this condition if you have a family history of the disease. For example, your risk is higher if you have a parent, child, or sibling with the condition.
While you can’t change your sex, age, or family medical history, there are steps you can take to mitigate your risk of developing this disease. There are risk factors that are within your control, such as suffering from obesity, being overweight, and smoking. Smoking cessation and weight loss can be difficult. If you have to focus on one risk mitigation technique, focus on smoking cessation.
Why Is It Important To Not Smoke?
The reason it is so important to not smoke if you have an elevated risk of developing RA is that smoking doesn’t just increase the risk of developing this autoimmune disease. It also increases your risk of more severe symptoms. Note, if you can’t quit cigarettes cold turkey, you’re not alone. Tapering your nicotine consumption is better than smoking as much as you currently do.
Also, keep in mind that it is common for people who quit smoking to gain weight. There are a couple of reasons this may be the case. One reason people may gain weight while they’re quitting cigarettes is that they feel their blood sugar levels are crashing, so they eat foods that are high in sugar. Also, some people turn to cigarettes to improve anxiety symptoms. They may turn to an excessive amount of comfort foods while they are withdrawing from nicotine.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that you may gain a little weight while you’re quitting cigarettes. Remember that you are more likely to get severe rheumatoid arthritis if you smoke, but excess weight does not increase your risk of severe symptoms significantly. Once you’ve been off cigarettes completely for several weeks or months, you will be able to start losing weight successfully. You don’t need to worry about smoking cessation and weight loss at the same time.
When Should I See a Doctor?
You should schedule a doctor’s appointment if you are experiencing several of the warning signs mentioned above and they have not resolved themselves after several weeks. Even if you don’t have RA, the condition that is causing your symptoms needs to be diagnosed, so you can be treated and restore your quality of life.
Note, there is no single test that can be ordered to diagnose RA. Rather, several tests, including an imaging test, like an ultrasound or X-ray, blood tests, and examinations of your joints and organs will be required.
What Will Happen if I Don’t Seek Treatment?
There are a number of potential consequences of not seeking treatment for your RA. Even though this disease usually targets the healthy cells that comprise the joints, four out of 10 people who suffer from this disease experience immune system attacks on other cells. For example, it is possible that, if you leave this condition untreated, the following areas will be affected:
- Nerve tissue
- Blood vessels
- Bone marrow
- Salivary glands
Schedule Your Initial Consultation Today
Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful disease that can seriously damage your body if it goes untreated. While it most commonly affects the joints, other healthy cells in your body can be attacked. If you do not seek treatment, such serious consequences as bone erosion and heart damage can occur. If you are noticing any of the early warning signs, don’t delay. Contact us today at RightPath Pain & Spine Centers in Davenport, FL for a diagnosis and effective treatment plan.