Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that primarily affects the joints but can also affect other parts of the body. In RA, the immune system mistakenly attacks the lining of the joints, causing inflammation and damage to the surrounding tissues.
Some common symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis in women include joint pain, swelling, stiffness, and decreased range of motion. RA can also cause fatigue, fever, and weight loss. The symptoms of RA typically occur in a symmetrical pattern, affecting the same joints on both sides of the body.
There is no cure for RA, but early diagnosis and treatment can help manage symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. Treatment typically includes a combination of medication, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes. Common medications used to treat RA include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), and biologic agents.
If you are experiencing joint pain, stiffness, or other symptoms that may be related to RA, it is important to see a healthcare provider for an evaluation and diagnosis. Prompt treatment can help prevent further joint damage and improve quality of life.
However, RA can also affect children and young adults. Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), which is also known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA), is a type of arthritis that affects children under the age of 16. JIA has different subtypes, and the age of onset and symptoms can vary depending on the subtype.
It is important to note that RA is a complex disease with a wide range of symptoms and severity, and each person’s experience with RA can be unique. If you are experiencing joint pain, stiffness, or other symptoms that may be related to RA, it is important to see a healthcare provider for an evaluation and diagnosis.
During pregnancy, some women with RA experience improvement in their symptoms, which may be related to higher levels of estrogen and other hormones. However, after giving birth, many women experience a flare-up of their RA symptoms, which may be related to a sudden drop in hormone levels.
In addition to estrogen, other hormones such as testosterone, growth hormone, and cortisol have also been studied for their potential role in RA. Testosterone, which is present in higher levels in men, may have a protective effect against the development of RA. Growth hormone and cortisol have been shown to affect the immune system and may contribute to the development or progression of RA.
Overall, the relationship between hormones and RA is complex and not fully understood. More research is needed to determine the exact mechanisms by which hormones may influence the development and progression of RA, and to develop targeted therapies that take these factors into account.
- Medical history: The healthcare provider will ask about symptoms, when they started, how long they have been present, and how they have affected daily activities.
- Physical examination: The healthcare provider will examine the affected joints for signs of inflammation, such as redness, warmth, swelling, and tenderness.
- Blood tests: Blood tests can help detect inflammation in the body and may include a complete blood count (CBC), erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), C-reactive protein (CRP), and rheumatoid factor (RF).
- Imaging tests: X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and ultrasound may be used to visualize the joints and look for signs of damage or inflammation.
- Joint aspiration: In some cases, the healthcare provider may remove a small sample of fluid from a joint to test for signs of infection or inflammation.
- Additional tests: Depending on the suspected type of arthritis, additional tests may be ordered, such as a uric acid test for gout, or an antinuclear antibody (ANA) test for lupus.
It is important to note that there are many different types of arthritis, each with unique symptoms and diagnostic criteria. A healthcare provider with expertise in arthritis can help determine the most appropriate tests for an individual’s symptoms and medical history.
General, non-joint early symptoms of RA include:
- low-grade fever
- loss of appetite
- unintentional weight loss
These signs can precede the painful joint symptoms commonly associated with RA.
Recurrent bouts of fatigue along with a general sense of not feeling well may occur weeks or months before other symptoms.
As the disease progresses, these symptoms may accompany joint-related symptoms during a flare.
Morning joint stiffness is a strong indication of RA.
Joint stiffness usually lasts anywhere from 1 to 2 hours and sometimes longer. It can also occur after prolonged periods of rest or inactivity such as napping or watching television.
Stiffness and decreased range of motion can eventually make simple daily tasks such as buttoning a shirt or opening a jar difficult.
Joint swelling and pain
When the disease is active, affected joints become red, swollen, painful, and feel warm to the touch.
In the early stages of RA, smaller joints in the hands, wrists, and feet tend to be affected first. Over time, larger joints in the knees, shoulders, hips, and elbows may become affected.
What differentiates RA from other types of arthritis is that RA symptoms attack symmetrically. This means that if your left wrist is inflamed, your right wrist likely will be inflamed as well.
According to the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center, 20 to 30 percent of people with RA develop rheumatoid nodules, firm lumps of tissue that grow under the skin at bony pressure points.
Rheumatoid nodules are most often found on elbows, but they can be found on other areas of the body, such as on the fingers, over the spine, or on the heels. They’re usually painless and can appear alone or in clusters.
Chronic inflammation caused by RA over the long term may cause damage to bone, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments.
In advanced stages, RA can lead to extensive bone erosion and joint deformity. A telltale sign of severe RA is twisted fingers and toes bent at unnatural angles.
Severely disfigured hands can impair fine motor skills and make performing daily tasks challenging. Deformity can also affect wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles.
Symptoms throughout the body
In severe cases of RA, persistent inflammation may affect other areas of the body, such as the eyes, lungs, heart, and blood vessels.
Long-term inflammation may cause:
- severe dry eyes and mouth (Sjögren’s syndrome)
- rheumatoid inflammation of the lung lining (pleurisy)
- inflammation of the covering of the heart (pericarditis)
- reduction of the number of healthy red blood cells (anemia)
a very rare yet serious blood vessel inflammation that can limit blood supply to tissues, leading to tissue death (vasculitis)