Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder in which the body mistakenly attacks the tissues in our joints. In the U.S. alone, over 1.5 million people have RA, and it is three times more likely to occur in women than men. Knowing what rheumatoid arthritis symptoms feel like is critical so you can begin treatment immediately to slow down the progression of the disease in its earliest stages, and control the associated pain and limited mobility.
Where and Which RA Symptoms Appear First
People experience the early symptoms of RA differently but, in general the first signs of the disorder are:
Fatigue – feeling unusually tired can occur weeks or months before any other symptoms of RA surface. It often comes and goes and can feel like depression or general ill health
Joint Stiffness – the feeling of stiffness is usually followed by tenderness and then pain when moving the afflicted joint; or even while at rest. People often experience joint stiffness first in their hands.
Joint Pain and Tenderness – the discomfort can be felt while using your joints or even while you are at rest. Many RA sufferers first feel the tenderness in their fingers, ankles or wrists.
Swelling and Warmth – the inflammation that is the source of pain for RA sufferers causes joints to swell and feel unusually warm to the touch.
Numbness and/or Tingling – the inflammation caused by RA can put pressure on nerves. In addition to the numbness and tingling sensation, cracking or squeaking noises can be heard when moving the joints. This is damaged cartilage grinding against bone.
Because the early symptoms of RA can sometimes mimic those of other diseases, a correct diagnosis can often be delayed. The sooner you seek treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, the better. By addressing the symptoms when they first appear, you can slow down the progression of the disease and preserve joint tissue and mobility.
How Rheumatoid Arthritis Affects the Body
When the immune system begins to function improperly, it will often attack the synovial membrane, which is a thick swath of tissue covering the joints. It generally starts in the fingers, wrists, toes, ankles and knees; and if not treated right away, it can begin to damage surrounding joint tissue.
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As the tissue of the joints is destroyed, the body’s inflammatory response kicks in. Short bursts of inflammation are how the body rids itself of foreign agents and heals damaged tissue, but prolonged inflammation causes pain and swelling.
As the disease progresses, joints begin to thin; the cartilage, bone, ligaments and tendons begin to weaken, causing deformities, especially in the fingers.
Early Detection and Treatment
About one third of most cases of RA are diagnosed between 30 and 70 years of age, with the majority of those being diagnosed in their 40s. Being aware of the earliest signs and symptoms, especially if you have a family history of the disease, is critical to begin treatment.
The longer RA goes untreated, the more irreversible damage it does to the joints. By reducing inflammation with prescriptions, over the counter drugs and even natural remedies, you can keep flare ups at bay. A flare up is when the symptoms appear suddenly, they can last for days or even weeks, then they may dissipate and even disappear temporarily.
At the first sign of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, don’t wait! Seek medical attention quickly and begin treatment right away.