Rheumatoid arthritis (R.A.) is a chronic inflammatory disease. Although it mainly affects the joints, it can also affect a large number of organs and even some tissues. It’s an auto-immune reaction which causes inflammation in the affected areas in a degenerative, chronic manner.
Although the course of this disease varies from individual to individual, it’s often characterised by active stages or ‘flare-ups’ and passive stages or ‘remissions’; it is during the passive stages or remissions that the individual is free of symptoms and, if unaware of how R.A. ‘works’, he or she may wrongly believe that the disease has disappeared.
Moreover, some passive stages are very deceptive: for example, you may have a mild temperature for very long periods and suffer from mild anaemia, perhaps feeling a little tired though not necessarily. This is a common subtle stage of R.A in which many affected people are completely unaware; if they go to the doctor he or she may completely overlook the possibility of R.A. and allow this degenerative disease to continue its hidden ‘onslaught’.
If left completely untreated the affected individuals may, in the later stages, develop joint destruction with some deformity and severe mobility impairments, together with chronic pain and potential damage to other organs.
It is therefore advisable that you are very aware of your body, that you learn all you need to know about R.A. so that you can quickly determine if it’s worth asking your doctor for the necessary tests, some of which very easy and affordable. I will list these tests further down.
The symptoms of R.A in its active stages (flare-ups) are:
- joint pain, joint stiffness and, at times, joint redness and swelling
- the range of motion in the affected area/s is diminished
- Muscular pain, mild fever and (sometimes) anaemia (lower red cells count in your blood)
- Initially only hands (one or both, especially the fingers) may be affected, sometimes only the feet. Then the elbows or ankles may be affected. Then one or both knees. This may be a dull chronic pain or only some unspecified stiffness with particular sensitivity to cold water and cold weather. Later on the pain may increase and become more chronic.
In the later stages R.A. may cause
- Skin redness or skin inflammation
- Round nodules under the skin (which are painless)
- Swollen glands
- Deformities of hands and feet (this is one of the later stages of R.A.)
How to properly diagnose R.A. to avoid making the mistake of ignoring it:
1 – If you think some specific joint areas may be affected, even if only your hands, an easy way to diagnose whether you suffer from R.A. or not is through a simple X-Ray of the affected area. This is how I was diagnosed with R.A. at only 14 years of age, by pure chance whilst I was being treated for a finger injury. I was completely unaware I was suffering from it and until then my doctors had completely overlooked my chronic mild fever and my chronic mild anaemia.
2 – Through a blood tests, you can ask your doctor to check your ESR (Erythocyte Sedimentation Rate), your CRP (C-Reactive proteins) and possibly an overall CBC (complete blood count)