Finding Help for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) generally affects the smaller joints of the hands and feet. As opposed to the “wear and tear” type of damage caused by osteoarthritis, RA affects joint linings.
This process results in painful swelling that can ultimately lead to deformity and potential misalignment of the joints as well as erosion of the bones.
Common signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:
- Warm, swollen, tender joints.
- Stiffness occurring in the morning that may persist for hours.
- Rheumatoid nodules (i.e. firm bumps of tissue which develop under the skin of the arms).
- Unexplained loss of weight.
As mentioned above, early stages of RA tend to initially affect the smaller joints of the fingers and toes. As the condition advances, symptoms can spread to the elbows, shoulders, ankles, knees and hips. In the majority of cases, symptoms develop within identical joints on both sides of the body.
RA signs and symptoms can vary in their degree of severity as well as come and go. For example, “flare-ups” (episodes of elevated disease activity) can alternate with relative “remissions” (times when swelling and/or pain either fade or completely disappear).
When you should see a doctor or specialist
If you are experiencing persistent swelling, pain and discomfort in your joints, make an appointment with your primary health care provider as soon as possible.
While you will likely discuss your signs and symptoms with your family doctor first, he or she may refer you to a rheumatologist (a specialist in the diagnosis and treatment of inflammatory conditions including RA) for additional assessment.
Next page: how to prepare and what to expect.