Symptoms of a Severe Disease
Numbness and Tingling
Inflammation in the tendons puts pressure on nerves and may cause numbness, tingling and/or burning in the hands and feet of people with RA. These symptoms may also be a sign of a complication, a condition called neuropathy.
While there are different types of neuropathy, sensory neuropathy is the most common in people with RA, this according to the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center. This type of neuropathy affects the nerves responsible for carrying pain signals to the brain.
Nerve pain should never be ignored so if you experience this symptom, notify your doctor immediately.
According to research reported in the medical journal, Rheumatic Diseases Clinics of North America, up to 67 percent of people with RA have some degree of lung involvement that can be seen on imaging studies. In many cases, lung involvement is not severe enough to cause symptoms, but according to this same report, at least 40 percent of people experience respiratory symptoms.
Severe and prolonged inflammation can lead to a condition called pulmonary fibrosis, a condition that is difficult to treat and affects breathing. It is also possible for rheumatoid nodules to form on lungs, but much like those on skin, they are often harmless.
Having RA increases your risk for heart disease. Further, RA inflammation affects the heart and eventually hardens the arteries.
The best way to decrease your risk for heart conditions related to RA is to get inflammation on under control. It is also important to not smoke, avoid second-hand smoke, eat a healthy diet low in saturated fats, be active, and make sure you are treating for and managing all health conditions, especially high blood pressure and diabetes.
Shortness of breath and chest pain are signs something is wrong. If you find yourself running of breath or experiencing chest pain, you should seek medical attention right away.
Do All of These Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms Mean I Have RA?
Your healthcare provider may conduct a thorough evaluation in order to make an accurate diagnosis of RA or if it's another condition mimicking RA. This evaluation may encompass a history and physical and possibly blood tests, imaging studies, and biopsies. They may assess your symptoms and determine if they are due to RA or some other form of arthritis.
During the history, your healthcare provider may ask you lots of questions. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed, but try to be succinct, clear and honest. Before arriving at your appointment, you can prepare by asking yourself:
- When did my symptoms start?
- Did my symptoms develop slowly over time or rapidly?
- Does anything seem to trigger my symptoms?
- Do my symptoms remain constant or do they wax and wane?
- Do I feel better or worse in the morning when I wake up?
- What makes my symptoms worse?
- What makes my symptoms better?
- How are my symptoms impacting my life?
- How severe are my symptoms on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst?
If your healthcare provider determines that you have RA, they may refer you to a physician or nurse practitioner who specializes in rheumatology. It is absolutely imperative that you schedule and attend this appointment because delaying treatment will lead to further joint damage.
Understanding the Risk Factors of Rheumatoid Arthritis
A meta-analysis published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases found that any history of smoking cigarettes increased both men and women’s risk of developing RA; men with a history of smoking were 1.89 times more likely to develop RA, and women with a history of smoking were 1.34 times more likely.
Other possible risk factors for developing RA include:
- Genetic predisposition
- First-degree relative with lupus
- Increased blood levels of rheumatoid factor
- Drinking more than three cups of decaffeinated coffee per day
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
Some misconceptions exist about risk factors for RA. The following factors are not associated with an increased risk of developing RA:
- Silicone breast implants
- Vitamin D supplementation
- Occupational exposure to cutting oil, motor oil, form oil, hydraulic oil or asphalt
- Postmenopausal hormone therapy
- Drinking alcohol
- Breastfeeding your children for longer than 13 months
A Note on Symptoms
Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis will vary in severity and will often come and go. For example, you may experience periods of flare-ups or periods of remission when the swelling and pain slow down or disappear altogether.
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms can be debilitating and impact more than just your joints. The chronic inflammation caused by RA has devastating consequences to your entire body including your eyes, mouth, heart, blood, skin, and nerves.
If you think you may have the symptoms of RA, you should seek medical advice at once. Make an appointment with your doctor as soon as you start to experience persistent pain, discomfort, and swelling in your joints or symptoms that affect your quality of life.
Delaying treatment may worsen the damage to your joints and overall health. Your healthcare provider (or team) may conduct a thorough evaluation to determine if you are suffering from RA or another condition that relates to RA or mimics it.
While it isn't always easy to live with RA, just remember this: RA is not a death sentence, you are still you at the end of the day and even RA or RA symptoms can't change that.
Lastly, just continue to learn more and more about your condition, what causes your RA flare-ups, and what type of treatment options are available.