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What Rheumatoid Arthritis Feels Like

  • Category: General Health
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  • Written By: ATRIO Healthplan
What Rheumatoid Arthritis Feels Like

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

According to the Arthritis Foundation, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that occurs when your immune system — whose function is to protect your body's health by attacking foreign substances — mistakenly attacks your joints. Inflammation is then created, which leads to the tissue that lines the inside of your joints, also known as the synovium, to thicken. The synovium's job is to make fluid to lubricate the joints, so they move smoothly. When it’s thickened, swelling and pain in and around joints occur.

What Are The Key Symptoms?

Early-stage symptoms include redness and swelling in the joint area. Some may experience tenderness or pain. The most common symptoms of RA include:

  • Six weeks or longer of swelling, stiffness, and joint pain
  • Stiffness in the morning that lasts for 30 minutes or longer
  • Small joints and multiple joints are affected
  • The same joints on both sides of the body are affected

Since RA is an autoimmune disease, many will also experience fatigue, loss of appetite, and even a low-grade fever. It’s important to note that symptoms aren’t always constant, and when pain does occur for long periods, such as days or months, it’s considered a flare-up. Additionally, when inflammation is ongoing, other organs and body parts can be affected, such as your mouth, lungs, or skin.

RA Testing and Treatment Options

Your primary care doctor will discuss your pain, its location, and medical history before ultimately referring you to a rheumatologist for further testing. From there, they will often do a blood test and address your pain. Since symptoms usually occur in similar joints on both sides of the body, a physical exam of each joint will occur.

Your treatment will vary and be based on the severity of your RA. The earlier they spot it, the better, as it will be easier to stop inflammation, which can ultimately prevent joint and organ damage. A variety of medications are available to relieve the pain and stop disease activity, and for some, surgery may also be an option.

There are also several at-home steps you can take to ease pain, and lessen your chance of flares. For instance, specific dietary changes or proper rest days can improve symptoms and reduce pain. A positive support system is critical, too.