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Signs and Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory medical condition which will primarily affect the joints of the body. The smaller joints of the hand and the feet are usually at the highest risk of having issues due to the rheumatoid arthritis. There have also been cases of this inflammatory disorder caused issues in some of the other organs of the body. Typically only 15 to 25% of people with a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis will experience manifestations which are outside of the joints. One of the toughest issues when it comes to this condition can actually be distinguishing what causes these RA symptoms. In many cases, it can be difficult to tell whether these symptoms have been caused due to the process of the rheumatoid arthritis itself, or if it is a side effect of a medication that has been used.

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The Joints

The joints are primarily the most affected parts of the body when it comes to rheumatoid arthritis. If a person has rheumatoid arthritis, the synovial membrane that lines the joints and the tendons will become inflamed. This inflammation of the synovial membrane is referred to as synovitis, or arthritis of the joints. Synovitis causes the joints to become swollen, tender, and stiff. Eventually if the synovitis gets severe enough, it will limit the available movement of the joint. Rheumatoid arthritis nearly always ends of affecting more than one joint. Most often, the small joints of the hands, feet, and spine will be affected by the rheumatoid arthritis. For some RA patients, their knees and shoulders will also experience some inflammation.

The early morning can be a particularly troublesome time for people with rheumatoid arthritis, especially if their condition is in a more advanced stage. This also may be the case if a person has gone for long period without doing any sort of activity.

Upon waking in the morning, a person with rheumatoid arthritis may experience:

• Inflammation
• Pain in the joints
• Stiffness

This stiffness tends to be a more prominent feature of this condition and can last for a couple of hours after waking. This prolonged stiffness in the morning can be eased with some gentle flexing of the joints. Also this is one of the characteristics which help to distinguish rheumatoid arthritis (an inflammatory condition) from osteoarthritis (a non-inflammatory condition).

As the chronic condition progresses, this inflammation of synovial membrane can lead to erosion and eventually the destruction of the joint surface. This destruction of the joint surface will severely limit a person’s range of movement and can actually cause a deformity of the joint and corresponding digits. The fingers are especially vulnerable to almost any deformity depending on which joints are affected by the rheumatoid arthritis.

Deformities of the fingers which can be found in people with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis:

• Ulnar Deviation
• Boutonniere Deformity
• Swan Neck Deformity
• “Z-Thumb” or “Z-Deformity”

Distinguishing Symptom: Inflammation

One of the more distinguishing symptoms of this chronic inflammatory disease is the rheumatoid nodule. The inflammation caused by the rheumatoid arthritis can cause a reaction in the skin known as a necrotizing granuloma. Doctors believe that formation of the nodule may essentially be the same as the formation of synovitis. Mostly, these rheumatoid nodules are a few millimeters to a few centimeters in diameter and are commonly found over bony prominences. For people with rheumatoid arthritis, the areas that experience the most sustained mechanical stress are at the highest risk of developing a rheumatoid nodule. In some very rare cases, these rheumatoid nodules can actually develop in internal organs or some other diverse sites in the body.

Additional Problem Areas

Rheumatoid arthritis can cause some problems in the lungs, kidneys, and the heart for some patients.
Rheumatoid arthritis related issues of the lungs:
• In rare cases, RA patients have developed fibrosis of the lungs
• Lung nodules that develop from a mixture of RA and coal dust exposure
• Estimated that ¼ of Americans with RA will develop Rheumatoid Lung Disease

Heart related risks for people diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis:

• Atherosclerosis
• Myocardial infarction
• Higher risk of stroke

Many people who have RA will also not feel the chest pain that is associated with a myocardial infarction. Thus if people with RA wish to reduce their overall cardiovascular risk, then they must maintain optimal control over their inflammation. Regular exercise and taking appropriate medication for their cardiovascular health will also help to reduce their overall risk.

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