Early Signs & Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

You just hit your early 30s and you find it harder to get up every morning than you did even five years ago. There’s a general feeling of stiffness over your entire body that never fails. You initially wrote it off as just an unfortunate part of the aging process (and even put up with gentle teasing from your friends), but now you’re starting to think there may be something more serious going on.

You’ve also started losing weight, but you’re not dieting or exercising. You originally thought that it was because of your loss of appetite, but even when you DO eat it seems to have no effect. All of this has contributed to a sense of depression – something that you’ve never had to deal with previously. Unfortunately, these IS something serious going on – these are all among the major early signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a long-term autoimmune disorder that typically affects a person’s joints. What usually begins as a warm feeling or swollen hands can quickly turn into pain that just won’t go away. Internally, the disease can also manifest itself as a low red blood cell count, inflammation of the lungs or even inflammation of the heart.

Part of seeking the appropriate medical treatment as quickly as possible involves knowing what to look for. That includes information about signs and symptoms and how to know when things get serious.

 

Rheumatoid Arthritis: By the Numbers

According to a study conducted by the Rheumatoid Arthritis Support Network, rheumatoid arthritis actually affects many more people than you may have previously realized.

  • Estimates point to the fact that as much as 1% of all people worldwide currently suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, which equates to roughly 1.3 million United States citizens alone.
  • The signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis typically begin when someone reaches the age of 30, though it can take until a person’s 60s to fully develop.
  • Cigarette smoking can increase the risk factor of a person in terms of developing rheumatoid arthritis by as much as 2.4%. Unfortunately, rheumatoid arthritis tends to also shorten a patient’s life – in some cases, it can do so by as much as 10 to 15 years.
  • Current estimates say that as many as 300,000 children in the United States alone currently suffer from a juvenile form of rheumatoid arthritis, which can affect kids up to 17-years-old.

 

What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Sadly, the specific cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not something that is currently known – though researchers are working very hard every day to try to find out. As a result, there is no cure for the condition – just a series of treatments that can help a person who has been affected live as comfortably as possible.

There are, however, four categories of potential risk factors that are heavily associated with a person developing rheumatoid arthritis in the first place. One of the most prominent of these is genetics – those with an immediately family member who has been diagnosed are four times more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis themselves. Risk factors of the environment also play a role, as everything from pollution to secondhand smoke to traumatic events could be enough to trigger the disease.

Hormones also seem to play an important role, as evidenced by the significant portion of women who develop rheumatoid arthritis. As stated, your lifestyle will also play a determining factor – particularly choices like smoking.

 

The Signs and Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Luckily, the signs and symptoms of early onset rheumatoid arthritis ARE heavily documented. Experts agree that the most common initial symptoms are as follows:

  • You begin to experience a general feeling of pain or stiffness in your joints.
  • Your joints begin to swell, or they turn red on a regular basis even when you’re not engaged in heavily physical activities.
  • These symptoms extend to four or more of your joints, including those in your hands and fingers.
  • Your symptoms are symmetrical – meaning that they seem to equally affect both the left and right sides of your body.
  • You experience a general sense of stiffness in your entire body when you wake up in the morning that often lasts for a half hour or more.
  • Any of the above physical symptoms last for longer than six months in a row.

If you begin to experience any of these initial signs, you should absolutely consult your doctor to schedule a physical examination. Outside of the symptoms directly associated with rheumatoid arthritis, there are a number of indirect signs to be on the lookout for, too. These include but are not limited to ones like:

  • You’ve recently started experiencing a chronic sense of fatigue that just won’t go away.
  • You’ve developed a low-grade fever.
  • You’ve inexplicably started losing weight.
  • You don’t have the same appetite you once did.
  • You have a general feeling of depression that you are unable to shake.
  • You get sick on a regular basis, or have an over-arching sense of malaise that is negatively affecting your daily life.

 

Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis

If you are living with rheumatoid arthritis, it is always important to seek treatment as quickly as possible. Though there is no cure, there ARE steps you can take to delay some of the more severe damage to your body it may cause and allow you to continue to live a long, healthy life. A doctor will likely prescribe you certain DMARDs, or “disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs” like methotrexate, sulfasalazine, anakinra and more. Anti-inflammatory agents and in certain extreme cases surgery have also proven to be helpful.

You should also take steps to limit any exposure to lifestyle factors associated with the disease. If you’re a smoker, quit. If you don’t exercise, start. Change your diet to help maintain not just a healthy body, but to fight the disease through diet. Likewise, there is some evidence that dietary supplements like omega-3 fatty acids can also help both mitigate long-term damage and assist a person in dealing with the day-to-day struggles of rheumatoid arthritis on an ongoing basis.