Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder. An autoimmune disorder is when the immune system begins producing antibodies that instead of fighting infections, attacks the body’s own tissues.
In Rheumatoid Arthritis the immune system attacks the joints causing inflammation. This causes the tissue that lines the inside of the joints (the synovial) to thicken causing swelling and pain. Left unchecked this will damage the cartilage that covers the ends of the bones in the joint as well as the bones themselves. Over time the joints become painful and stiff. Left untreated the joints become deformed.
Symptoms of RA may come and go. During periods of increased inflammation and other symptoms is called a flare which can last a few days to a few months. With prolonged periods of inflammation, RA can affect some organs in the body:
Eyes: Dryness, pain, redness, sensitivity to light
Mouth: Dryness and gum irritation or infection
Skin: Rheumatoid nodules (small lumps under the skin)
Lungs: Inflammation and scarring can lead to shortness of breath
Heart: Pericarditis (inflammation of the heart lining), increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
Blood Vessels: Inflammation that can lead to damage in the nerves, skin and other organs
Spotting early warning signs can help people get treatment as early as possible. The early warning signs of RA include:
- Fatigue: The 1st sign is feeling extremely tired and lack of energy. They may also feel depressed.
- Low grade fever: They may have a slightly raised temperature that sometimes accompanies the fatigue. This comes before any noticeable effects to the joints.
- Weight loss: Possibly when someone is feverish, they lose their appetite, consequently this causes them to lose weight.
- Stiffness: This type of stiffness not only affects the joints in the fingers but a general feeling of stiffness when you have been still for a long time especially in the morning.
- Joint tenderness: Typically early signs of RA first show joint tenderness in the hands and feet. In the hands, the joint in the middle and the base of the finger feel tender, and in the feet, the joints at the base of the toes may feel tender.
- Joint pain: Joint pain usually starts in the fingers, wrists, and feet is a sign of RA.
- Joint redness: Inflammation in the joints may give them a red appearance.
- Joint warmth: Even before the redness or swelling occurs the joints may become warm to the touch.
- Numbness and tingling: Numbness and tingling may affect the hands and feet caused by the inflammation pressing on a nerve resulting in loss of sensation.
As RA slowly progresses:
- Joint swelling: Joints that look swollen in the hands and feet are typical of RA and tend to be more apparent as RA progresses. You may see subtle swelling in the early stages.
- Decrease in range of motion: Damage can affect the ligaments and tendons especially in the wrist. As time goes on this makes it hard to bend and straighten them.
- Joints affected on both sides: For the majority of people with RA it typically affects the same joints on both sides of the body, but not all.
There is no cure for RA. Doctors recommend early and aggressive treatment since any damage already done cannot be reversed, but they may be able to slow the progression of the disease. That being said, being an auto immune disorder, suppressing the immune system with medicine is essential for controlling RA, however, that causes a much higher risk of infections. (Suppressing the immune system is suppressing the body’s defense against infectious bacteria and viruses.)
In Part 2 will be about diagnosing and how RA is treated. The more I research this disease the more it sucks. However, I feel the more informed I am the better prepared I’ll be if anything serious should happen.
Have a Great Day!
For further information here are some links:
Medical News Today: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319810.php?sr