Rheumatoid Arthritis: Symptoms, Complications, and Treatment

old people hanging together

Have you ever woken up with stiff joints? Do you struggle with moving and doing your daily tasks?

When this happens to you, visit your doctor right away. It may be a sign that you have rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease in which your immune system mistakes your tissues as a bacteria or virus. It can affect your joints, heart, and lungs. When left unattended, this disease can cause permanent disability.

How do you know if you have RA?

At the onset of rheumatoid arthritis, you might experience stiffness or swelling in your fingers and toes. These flare-ups last a few days or weeks, and then you’ll wake up as if nothing happened.

Eventually, the disease will affect larger joints like the hips, knees, and shoulders. The pain will make it difficult for you to move and do daily activities like working, changing clothes, and eating. According to the John Hopkins Arthritis Center, 60% of patients with RA are unable to work ten years after the onset of the disease.

Other symptoms experienced by RA patients include:

  • Anemia
  • Fatigue
  • Firm lumps beneath the skin
  • Low-grade fever
  • Weight loss

doctors looking at xray

The causes and complications of RA

Medical experts have yet to determine the cause of RA. However, risk factors like age, environment, and lifestyle could accelerate the onset of the disease. Women are also most likely to get rheumatoid arthritis than men.

Being diagnosed with RA means living with physical and social consequences that can affect your quality of life:

  • Difficulty in working. RA lowers your chances of employment. As the disease gets worse, you’ll struggle with tasks that require physical movement. The frustration of being unable to move can also cause depression.
  • Increased risk of diseases. The difficulty with movement leads to a sedentary lifestyle, increasing your chance of being obese. Obesity and lack of action increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
  • Weakened immune system. RA and its medications could affect the immune system, making you more prone to infections.

How do you treat and manage rheumatoid arthritis?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for RA. Doctors may prescribe a combination of medication and lifestyle changes to reduce the intensity of the disease.

You can manage the disease by:

  • Getting physically active. By exercising, you reduce the inflammation and the risk of becoming obese. Your doctor will recommend starting with light exercises like stretching before working up to strength training.
  • Getting some rest. When your joints feel inflamed, don’t force yourself to do any physical activity. When you do, you risk injuring your joint and its nearby tissue structures.
  • Changing your diet. Experimenting with dietary changes can help you identify which food types trigger or relieve RA symptoms. For example, that Taiwanese oolong tea you bought offline reduces inflammation, while foods with high sugar could intensify joint pain.
  • Joining a self-management class. Attending a self-management class helps you learn how to manage your symptoms. You can also meet people who have the same disease.

RA is a cruel disease that restricts your movement. Although there is no cure, medication and lifestyle changes can minimize the pain and let your live your healthy life.

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