Rheumatoid arthritis is believed to affect about 1% of the global population. It’s a progressive disease so early detection and treatment is an effective way to slow down the development of this painful condition and relieve symptoms. Bloom, together with leading medical health partner, Momentum Health4Me highlight ten early signs of rheumatoid arthritis that you can look out for.
What is rheumatoid arthritis and how is it caused?
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease that is systemic in nature, which means it can affect the entire body. The disease causes debilitating inflammation, swelling and pain in the joints and internal organs. Commonly affected areas include the hands and fingers, knees and ankles.
Like many autoimmune diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is caused when the immune system mistakes healthy tissue for foreign invaders and subsequently responds by attacking the lining of the joints, causing inflammation in target tissue areas, like the lungs or heart. Ordinarily, the immune system would fight pathogen invaders, like viruses or bacteria, but an autoimmune disease identifies healthy cells as invaders and so produces inflammatory chemicals, which attack these cells. The inflamed joint lining gradually becomes thicker, making the joint extremely painful and reducing the affected person’s range of mobility. If left untreated, the cartilage can be completely destroyed. Tendons and ligaments that hold the joints together also become weakened, which causes the joint to lose its natural shape.
Health effects of rheumatoid arthritis
Most people are aware that rheumatoid arthritis causes painful swelling in the joints but there are a number of other health implications associated with the condition. Some of these include:
- Heart damage due to inflammation around the heart muscle area
- Impaired vision as the eyes become dry and inflamed, resulting in the light sensitivity
- Oral problems as inflammation affects one’s gums resulting in severe pain or infections
- Skin problems can occur called rheumatoid nodules where lumps form under the skin over the bony areas of the body
- Lungs can become inflamed and scarred, leading to lung disease
- Blood and blood vessels are affected as the inflammation decreases the number of red blood cells, leading to nerve and organ damage
Learn how to spot the early signs of rheumatoid arthritis
These are some of the early signs of rheumatoid arthritis. It’s advisable to seek medical attention if you or a loved one present with an ongoing combination of these symptoms:
- Slight or mild fever. The inflammation that is typical of RA often causes one to feel feverish, which can present with a slightly raised temperature. This symptom will precede any major effects on the joints.
- Stiffness. This will start off as mild and may only occur in one or two small joints, like the fingers, to start off. The stiffness could last a few days. There may also be a feeling of overall bodily stiffness in addition to specific joints. This is often experienced early in the morning or when the affected person sits for a long period of time.
- General fatigue. Another one of the early signs of rheumatoid arthritis is fatigue. The affected person feels constantly tired. This lack of energy can extend to an inability to perform everyday tasks.
- Motion range impairment. Another early-onset symptom is when the affected person begins to lose their range of motion, like bending their ankle up and down. Progressive inflammation and irreparable damage to the joints will eventually affect the ligaments and tendons to such an extent that the affected person will battle to bend or straighten the joints at all.
- Unexplained weight loss. Due to the fever experienced, which reduces one’s appetite, some people who are presenting with the early signs of rheumatoid arthritis will experience a sudden and unexplained loss of weight.
- Tender joints. The areas that commonly show the first signs of joint tenderness are the hands and feet. The joint in the middle of one’s fingers may feel a bit tender during movement and in the feet, it is the joints at the base of one’s toes that feel the tenderness. Affected people may complain of feeling a bit of pain when using their hands or walking. Some people may even resort to walking on their heels so as not to put their toes on the ground.
- Joint pain. As the condition progresses, and the inflammation in the lining of the joint becomes thicker, the tender joints will become more painful, especially in the fingers, wrists and feet. The inflammation also increases the production of joint fluid, which serves to irritate the nerve endings, resulting in chronic pain.
- Joint swelling. The swelling of joints is a typical early sign of rheumatoid arthritis. This will start off with slight swelling, which gradually gets worse and more visibility prominent.
- Discolouration. Affected joints have a red appearance, especially on one’s hands and feet. This occurs because the inflammation causes blood vessels in the skin to widen.
- Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet. This is an early sign of inflammation in the joints. This type of feeling occurs because inflammation causes nerve compression and a loss of sensation in the afflicted areas.
Are some people more at risk for developing rheumatoid arthritis than others? While genetic factors do play a part, there are a number of other factors that are proven to contribute to one’s risk of developing the condition. These include:
Age. The condition tends to affect the elderly, the early signs of rheumatoid arthritis start to show when people are in their 60s.
Gender. Women are three times more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis. Hormones are believed to contribute to this as women who undergo menopause tend to experience a general activity decline, which can play a role in the disease progression.
Smoking. Studies have found a correlation between smoking and an increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
Obesity. A high body mass index can also increase one’s risk for rheumatoid arthritis.
Certain types of infections, like HIV, hepatitis B or C, or parvovirus can compromise one’s immune system and trigger the development of rheumatoid arthritis.
Gut bacteria. Certain types of bacteria found in one’s intestines, like Pevotella copri, can play a role in the development of inflammation and, in doing so, can trigger the development of the disease.
Prevention & treatment of rheumatoid arthritis
Experts agree that certain lifestyle practices can help reduce one’s risk of developing RA. One of these preventative measures is by watching your diet. Eat a nutritious, balanced diet and be sure to include the following:
- Fatty fish, like pilchards, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids
- Fresh fruit and vegetables
- Healthy monounsaturated fat, like olive oil
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains, which are a great source of fibre and help boost heart health
- Legumes, like beans
- Low-fat dairies, like milk and yoghurt
- Leafy greens, like spinach and kale
- Lean animal protein, like chicken
The following superfoods have anti-inflammatory properties: tomatoes, spinach, kale, walnuts, salmon, blueberries, strawberries and oranges.
It’s recommended to avoid or limit your intake of the following foods:
- Red meat and processed meat
- Refined carbohydrates, like white bread or pasta
- Fried food
- Carbonated soft drinks
Other preventative measures you can take to decrease your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis include:
- Quit smoking. Smokers are twice as likely to develop the disease than non-smokers. This is because tobacco smoking has a negative impact on the body’s immune system, creating oxidative stress and triggering inflammation.
- Keep your bones healthy and strong. Rheumatoid arthritis is often associated with bone density loss and osteoporosis. It’s essential that one prevents bone loss by exercising, watching one’s diet and taking supplements, if necessary.
- Good oral health care. Inflammation is believed to contribute to the risk of rheumatoid arthritis. Keep your teeth and gums in good condition by practising good oral hygiene with frequent brushing and flossing.
- Exercise. Regular, low-impact exercise can decrease the progression of and even relieve the symptoms of the disease. Try yoga, stretching, swimming and strength training to stay in shape.
There are a number of treatment plans available for those with rheumatoid arthritis. Some of these include:
- Medication, like corticosteroids, which help reduce inflammation and pain. Unfortunately, some drugs can cause side effects, like stomach ulcers, high blood pressure and liver problems.
- Occupational therapy and physiotherapy. An occupational therapist can assist in showing one how to accomplish certain tasks that will minimise the impact on the joints. They can also advise on an exercise plan and the use of aids, like a walking cane.
- Surgery. Certain surgeries can be performed to correct deformities and reduce pain. Arthroplasty, for instance, is a total joint replacement procedure.
Affordable health insurance with Momentum Health4Me
Bloom encourages members to commit to healthy living. This means boosting your immune system against disease and taking preventative measures against certain conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis. Chronic disease requires specialised medical care and services. Make sure you and your family are covered and get affordable comprehensive health insurance. Compare Health4Me options. Our team of consultants can provide guidance in choosing a medical insurance plan for you. Contact our offices for free health insurance quotes.
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