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Rheumatoid Arthritis: Symptoms, types, causes, stages, and treatments

Team AckoSept 20, 2022

If you have been facing pain, swelling, and tenderness in joints, then you may be affected by Rheumatoid Arthritis (starting stage). However, early diagnosis and timely treatment of related signs may slow down the progression of this disease. Though it is an incurable disease, it can be managed with medications and lifestyle changes. This article will help you understand more about Rheumatoid Arthritis and its common signs, causes, types, stages, complications and treatments.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune and chronic inflammatory disorder that occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the body. It affects joints in the hands, knees, and wrists, and causes painful swelling. It can damage organs like the eyes, lungs, skin, heart, and mouth. RA eventually leads to joint deformity and bone erosion.

Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms

The main signs and symptoms of RA include the following.

  • Joint pain and swelling 

  • Tenderness and stiffness in more than one joint that worsens in the morning or after inactivity

  • Weight loss

  • Fever

  • Fatigue and weakness

  • Loss of appetite

  • Sweating

Sometimes signs get worse (flares), and other times symptoms get better (remission). So, RA affects individuals differently and over time. Moreover, some people may develop fleshy lumps under the skin around affected joints.

Types of Rheumatoid Arthritis

RA is classified into three types — Seropositive RA, Seronegative RA, and Juvenile RA.

Seropositive RA

If your RF (rheumatoid factor) blood test result is positive, then you have this type of arthritis. Those with a family history of positive RF are prone to developing it. 

Seronegative RA

If you have negative RF and negative anti-CCP results, then you have mild RA, which may eventually develop into Seropositive RA.

Juvenile RA

It is also called Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, which occurs in children below 17 years. The symptoms are similar to RA, but this type of arthritis can lead to issues with the individual's physical development.

Different stages of Rheumatoid Arthritis

The four stages of RA are as follows.

Stage 1: Synovitis

This is the early stage where you may feel joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. During this stage, bones do not get damaged, but the immune system starts attacking the tissue around the joint, which causes inflammation. 

Stage 2: Pannus

In this moderate stage, the continued inflammation starts damaging the cartilage in the joints. Cartilage acts as cushiony stuff for the bones, without which joint pain may worsen. 

Stage 3: Fibrous Ankylosis

This is the severe stage where the damage extends from cartilage to bones. As the cushion between bones is no more, you will experience muscle weakness. You will also face more pain, swelling, loss of motion, and your joints may begin to appear crooked.

Stage 4: Bony Ankylosis

In this end stage, you may experience pain, stiffness, and swelling, but your joints will stop working. You won't be able to bend or flex the affected area. It is the time when you would need joint replacement surgery.

Causes and risk factors of Rheumatoid Arthritis

RA is an autoimmune disease, and the exact causes of this condition are not known. But the following factors may increase the risks of developing this health issue.

  • Age: It affects people between the ages of 40 and 60.

  • Diet: High intake of red meat increases the odds of developing RA.

  • Obesity: If you are overweight (your body mass index is above 25), you may develop this condition.

  • Gender: It is more common among women.

  • Family history: Those who have a family member with this disease are at higher risk of developing RA.

  • Smoking: It is one of the common risk factors for RA.  

Complications of RA

People with RA are at greater risk of developing other health conditions, which are as follows.

  • Infections

  • Lung diseases

  • Osteoporosis

  • Heart problems

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome

  • Dry eyes and mouth

  • Lymphoma

It can affect your blood vessels and may lower the count of red blood cells. If you have RA due to being overweight, you may develop diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

How is Rheumatoid Arthritis screened and diagnosed?

A diagnosis of RA is based on a combination of several factors, as there is no single test that can show if you have this condition or not. Your doctor will ask about your medical history and the issues you have been facing. A physical examination will also be conducted to see the location and symmetry of painful joints. Apart from these, your doctor will order certain tests to help confirm a diagnosis.

Blood tests

  • Full blood count to check the number of red blood cells

  • C-reactive protein (CRP) to see the level of inflammation

  • Cyclic citrulline antibody test (anti-CCP), which, if comes positive, confirms you have RA

  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) to determine the degree of inflammation in your body

  • Rheumatoid factor (RF) test to see the levels of a protein called rheumatoid factor 

Imaging tests

  • X-rays

  • Ultrasound scans

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans

Rheumatoid Arthritis treatment options

There is no cure for RA; however, signs can be treated by medications which can further help slow down the disease. Drugs that are known to treat RA are as follows.

1. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

These medications can help control signs like pain, stiffness, and swelling in the joints. 

2. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)

These drugs can slow the progression of the disease.  

3. Corticosteroids

These meds are called steroids, and they are known to help with pain and inflammation.

How to manage Rheumatoid Arthritis

People with RA can consider the following lifestyle changes to improve the quality of their life. 

Get physically active: Perform low-impact exercises like yoga, biking, swimming, walking, and stretching. This will help you maintain a healthy weight.

Showers and packs: Warm showers may reduce stiffness in the joints, whereas ice packs may help reduce pain and inflammation.

Quit smoking: Cigarette smoking not only worsens the condition but can even invite other health issues.

Apart from these, it is crucial to take enough rest, eat a diet high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and maintain good oral health.

Frequently asked questions

Following are some of the commonly asked questions regarding Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms and their answers.

What aggravates rheumatoid arthritis?

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Infections, stress, and poor sleep can trigger this condition.

Can RA affect more than just joints?

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Yes, RA not only affects more joints, but it can also damage other body parts, including the eyes, lungs, skin, heart, and blood vessels.

Does Rheumatoid Arthritis hurt all day?

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This disease causes pain and stiffness in the joints. So you may face difficulty in getting out of your bed in the morning.

Which body part is most often affected by Rheumatoid Arthritis?

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Usually, it affects the hands, elbows, shoulders, feet, wrists, knees, and ankles. It can cause pain and bumps over small joints and can also deform the affected joints.

What is the difference between RA and osteoarthritis?

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RA is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the lining of joints. Osteoarthritis leads to the wearing away of the cartilage in the joints.

Does Rheumatoid Arthritis affect your teeth?

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Yes, you are prone to developing serious oral conditions such as periodontitis (gum infection that leads to tooth loss) and gingivitis (gum disease that causes inflamed gums).

Can Rheumatoid Arthritis be cured?

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It is incurable but manageable. You can consume medications and bring about lifestyle changes to lead a better life.

References:

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. It is based on several secondary sources on the internet. As this content piece is not vetted by a medical professional, please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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