What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease where your body mistakenly has an inflammatory response. Typically, your body’s immune system works to identify and fight off infection by attacking harmful bacteria or viruses.
When the body responds this way to your joints, it results in pain, stiffness, and loss of motion. Rheumatoid arthritis is just one of many types of chronic pain diseases in the autoimmune family. Numerous kinds of arthritis differ based on how it affects the body and where the majority of inflammation is occurring.
For example, osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that only attacks cartilage, where rheumatoid arthritis can affect body systems and cause organ damage. Rheumatoid arthritis needs to be diagnosed by a physician with most often a rheumatologist brought on to the treatment team as well.
It’s important to get a definite diagnosis because if RA goes unchecked, it can damage organs and cause problems with your circulatory or respiratory systems. When treated early and aggressively, the damage can be slowed and symptoms alleviated with a variety of treatment options.
Warning Signs of Rheumatoid Arthritis
If you start to notice any of these symptoms, be sure to share your concerns with your doctor:
- Fatigue: Fatigue can be difficult to attribute to any one condition, but when you’re so tired you are adjusting your daily routine, it can be a symptom of RA. You may notice that you’re still tired after a good night’s sleep, or you’re changing your plans because of how tired you feel.
- Low-grade fever: A low-grade fever along with feeling vaguely sick can be a sign of your body fighting a kind of infection. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, it is your body attacking the linings around your joints. If your arthritis, it is your body attacking the linings around your joints. If you have a low-grade fever without any other flu symptoms, it can be a sign of an autoimmune disease.
- Joint problems: When the joints are inflamed, they may become warm, swollen or stiff. You may find yourself making adjustments throughout the day to accommodate the achy feelings in your joints. The most common places to feel joint pain are in the hands, wrists, hips, knees or ankles.
- Weight loss: Losing weight without making an effort to can be a sign of a health problem. You may have inflammation in your stomach, making absorption of nutrients more of a challenge. Seeing your doctors for regular blood work will help identify any deficiencies, and a supplement can help replace what is needed.
How Is RA Diagnosed?
Identifying an autoimmune disease is not always a fast, easy process. Symptoms can be challenging to pinpoint, and chronic pain is notoriously inconsistent.
You will most likely start the diagnostic process with your primary doctor, and if they suspect an autoimmune disease, they will refer to you to a rheumatologist. A rheumatologist is a physician specializing in arthritis, fibromyalgia, gout, Lupus and all other types of autoimmune conditions.
This doctor will confirm the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis through gathering your medical history, your family’s medical background, analysis of your symptoms, and bloodwork. Imaging tests like X-rays and MRIs will be used to track the progression of joint damage.
Blood tests will determine if rheumatoid arthritis is the appropriate diagnosis because there are indicators that show inflammation. If there are elevated levels of two tests, the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (SED rate) and the C-reactive protein (CRP), then a diagnosis of RA is confirmed.
Making the Most of Your Doctor’s Visit
When you start working with more than one doctor, information can get mixed up pretty easily. It will become important for you to keep careful records of your symptoms, medications, reactions, and allergies to help keep everyone on the same page.
Some physicians are connected online with various programs that keep track of your test results and doctor’s visits. If you have the opportunity to take advantage of such a program, it’s worth it.
It is also wise to have either a typed or handwritten account of information with one copy for your medical records and one for your own records at home. Having a written account at the start of your visit makes the most of your time and may keep you from forgetting to mention a worsening symptom or a new supplement you may have started trying.
The more informed you are of your condition, the easier it will be to determine a course of action.