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Senior Health: What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Nov 30, 2017 by Comfort Keepers Denver

The Quick Facts of Rheumatoid Arthritis

With most diseases or conditions, the earlier you get diagnosed and begin treatment, the better outcome you’ll have.

This idea couldn’t be truer for rheumatoid arthritis. Affecting an estimated 1.5 million Americans, this condition is burdensome and painful, but can be managed well with early diagnosis. Here’s the scoop on the disease and when you should see the doc:

What is Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), usually just referred to as arthritis, normally results from an immune system issue. The body mistakes its own cells for foreign ones and attacks itself, specifically in the lining of joints. This results in inflamed, stiff, and even painful joints anywhere in the body.

The condition can fluctuate, being very painful some days and other days showing no symptoms at all.

It’s also a chronic condition, meaning that there is no cure. However, medications are on the market to help manage symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.

Risk Factors and Early Signs

The cause of RA is still unknown, although we do know of several risk factors that trigger it. Some of the most common risk factors are:

  • Being overweight/obese
  • Being a woman
  • Smoking

There are many ways RA may present itself, but it’s important to know some of the most common early signs, such as:

  • Joint issues. This can include joint swelling, pain, redness, warmth, and tenderness – especially a combination of any of these. Anything pertaining to the joints that is out of place can be a sign of RA.
  • Symmetry. By this, I mean joints are affected on both sides of your body. For example, instead of one knee being swollen and painful, both are. This isn’t true for all RA patients, but it is for most.
  • Unexplained weight loss. Interestingly, this is an indirect result of inflammation in the body, and RA could be the culprit.
  • Fatigue. Someone with RA may feel this symptom with force before they notice any other ones. This is because the immune system is working overtime doing its normal job and wrongly attacking joint cells.

When Should I See the Doctor?

If you suspect you have RA, the quicker you go see the doctor, the better. Earlier diagnosis can lead to earlier, more effective treatment.

This is especially important because if the condition goes untreated for an extended period of time, complications can occur. For example:

  • Rheumatoid nodules, or firm lumps forming around the joints, can develop. You can physically see these in RA patients, as they give the swollen, bone-y appearance in their joints.
  • Damage is done to not only joints, but nearby bone and surrounding cartilage. This can lead to joint deformities.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome is common amongst RA patients.
  • There’s actually an increased risk for stroke or heart attack.

Therefore, if you think you may have RA, get to the doctor as soon as you can.

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