Rheumatoid Arthritis, also referred to as RA, is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disorder. It primarily affects a patient's bones and joints but has a high potential to affect other parts of the body as well. While RA is not curable, it can be managed and slowed by proper medical treatment.
While the first symptoms Rheumatoid Arthritis may be mild and not greatly affect your quality of life, as the disease progresses it becomes steadily worse. Late symptoms might include deformed joints that may be shifted out of their proper alignment, kidney failure, heart failure, and COPD, among others.
Bone & Joint First Symptoms Rheumatoid Arthritis
Although RA doesn't primarily affect your bones themselves, these are the symptoms most people bring to mind when they hear about the disease. Unlike osteoarthritis, which is a wearing down of the bones as a primary source, the bone and joint issues in RA come from inflammation in the joint lining. This inflammation causes swelling, which forms pressure that can erode or deform your bones over time.
The very first symptoms aren't as serious as deformities or erosion, however. The first signs develop very slowly, over the course of months. Stiffness is often a first indicator, which is usually most prevalent in the mornings. It may also increase after strenuous activity.
The first joints to be affected are the smallest. Your knuckles, finger joints, and toe joints may begin to swell, feel warm, or become tender to the touch. After, the disease typically moves to medium-sized joints like your wrists, ankles, and elbows, before targeting large joints like the shoulders and hips.
Other First Symptoms Rheumatoid Arthritis
The first symptoms Rheumatoid Arthritis are not all about bones and joints – far from it, in fact. The first signs people often notice are totally unrelated to the primary issues of RA, and as such, it can take quite a bit of time for individuals to garner a diagnosis.
During the first months of RA, the most notable symptom is that of extreme fatigue. This fatigue is present with adequate sleep, and without any known physical exertions. The disease can present differently in every individual, but some will note weight loss and/or a low-grade fever during those first few months as well.
Just under half of all RA patients will develop little bumps called ‘nodules' beneath their skin. These nodules may range in size from a pea to a mothball and are most common in pressure points – like the elbows, knuckles, spine, and lower leg bones, for example.
Mental Health First Symptoms Rheumatoid Arthritis
One set of early symptoms that aren't often talked about are the ones affecting your mental health. People who are experiencing the onset of RA innately know that something is wrong with them. It may take a considerable amount of time to receive a proper diagnosis because many symptoms are prevalent in other diseases as well. Patients may feel anxious (especially about their health), depressed, or suffer from panic attacks.
What To Do If You Think You Have RA
If you suspect that you or a loved one is currently suffering from undiagnosed RA, it is imperative that you seek proper medical attention. Your general practitioner may refer you to a specialist called a rheumatologist, who has undergone specific training in the diagnosis and treatment of rheumatic disorders. They may work in conjunction with another specialist, called an immunologist, depending on the severity and exact symptoms present.
Only a licensed medical practitioner has the ability to diagnosis RA. While the first symptoms rheumatoid arthritis seem small, the disease does steadily progress and can become life-threatening instead of irritating if left untreated.