Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that occurs when your immune system attacks and destroys healthy tissue for reasons that are unknown to date. RA typically affects joints on both sides of the body simultaneously, but can affect other non-joint areas of the body as well. RA is the most common type of autoimmune arthritis, with more than 50 million (or 1 in 5) adults diagnosed in the United States today. Although symptoms can appear at any age, women are three times more likely than men to develop rheumatoid arthritis, so it is important for female patients of any age to understand and recognize RA symptoms.

woman in pain from her rheumatoid arthritis

Effects of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Early onset RA affects your smaller joints first, such as fingers and toes. Your joints will feel tender and warm, and may appear swollen at times. Your joints may also feel stiff, especially after a prolonged period of inactivity such as sleeping, and simple tasks (e.g., buttoning your shirt) become increasingly difficult as a result. As RA progresses, you will feel similar sensations in other joints when the disease spreads to knees, wrists, shoulders, and ankles. These sensations can extend beyond the joints, and affect skin, eyes, lungs, nerves, and kidneys as well. In severe cases, rheumatoid arthritis is even known to affect bone marrow, blood vessels and salivary glands in some instances. As the disease slowly progresses, patients will feel increasingly tired, which may or may not be accompanied by bouts of fever and/or unintended weight loss as a result of a loss of appetite.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms

RA symptoms may come and go, so they can easily be dismissed or attributed to something else, such as physical activity or cold weather. Also, women of a younger age will dismiss the notion they may be suffering from RA, as it typically is seen as a disease affecting an older population. However, as flare ups increase over time in number and intensity, the discomfort often leads patients to ask their physician for advice and relief. At this time, no cure exists for rheumatoid arthritis and treatment focuses solely on containing flare ups by controlling pain and inflammation.

As RA further progresses, the disease will inevitably cause joints to shift and appear deformed and twisted. Some of the available RA treatments aim to slow down the progression of the disease. They cannot, however, reverse joint damage or bone erosion that has already occurred. Therefore, it is important to know the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in order to recognize whether your aches and pains are early onset RA flare-ups that may need your general practitioner’s attention. Even if the pain is manageable now, RA will progress and cause irreparable damage so especially female patients should let physicians know if any of the above symptoms occur.

If you think you may have Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms or be at risk, contact RMD Primary Care to set up an appointment today.