Most people think of arthritis as a problem they may need to deal with when they’re older. While it’s true that osteoarthritis usually appears after the age of 50, rheumatoid arthritis is different. Rheumatoid arthritis typically begins between the ages of 30 and 50.
Though men develop rheumatoid arthritis, women have a much higher risk. Of all diagnosed cases of rheumatoid arthritis, 3 out of 4 are women.
As an autoimmune disease that causes extensive inflammation, rheumatoid arthritis has unique characteristics and complications. But with today’s advanced treatments, Behnam Khaleghi, MD, and our team at Pacific Rheumatology Medical Center can help slow down progressive joint damage and help you keep living a healthy, fulfilling life.
Rheumatoid arthritis explained
Rheumatoid arthritis begins when your immune system attacks the synovial tissues lining the inside of your joints. As a result, the tissues become inflamed and swollen. The ongoing inflammation leads to tissue damage, symptoms, and complications.
The following qualities set rheumatoid arthritis apart from osteoarthritis:
Begins in small joints
Rheumatoid arthritis typically begins in the joints of your fingers, toes, and wrists. Eventually, it may affect your shoulders, elbows, knees, ankles, and neck.
Affects both sides of your body
Rheumatoid arthritis appears in the same joints on both sides of your body.
Causes joint deformities
Without treatment, the ongoing inflammation causes changes that gradually destroy the cartilage, erode the underlying bone, and damage the joint’s ligaments. As a result, the joint loses its shape and deformities develop. Severe deformities interfere with joint function and ultimately require a joint replacement.
Spreads through your body
Ongoing inflammation leads to health conditions in other parts of your body. About 40% of people with rheumatoid arthritis develop problems affecting their heart, blood vessels, eyes, lungs, and bone marrow, to name just a few.
The longer rheumatoid arthritis goes untreated, the more likely you are to develop serious conditions such as atherosclerosis, anemia, interstitial lung disease, and vasculitis.
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms
In most cases, rheumatoid arthritis symptoms develop gradually. Your symptoms may come and go. At times, you’ll feel fine and then suddenly, your symptoms flare up and become severe.
Rheumatoid arthritis causes the following four types of symptoms:
As you would expect, rheumatoid arthritis causes joint stiffness, pain, and swelling.
Though morning stiffness is related to your joint symptoms, it’s worth mentioning separately because long-lasting morning stiffness, or stiffness after a long period of sitting or inactivity, is a hallmark characteristic of rheumatoid arthritis. You can expect morning stiffness to last more than one hour, and it often continues for several hours.
Because rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease, it commonly causes a low-grade fever, fatigue, and malaise, which is an overall feeling of discomfort or feeling ill.
These symptoms occur as rheumatoid arthritis leads to an inflammatory condition elsewhere in your body. The symptoms you experience depend on the underlying problem.
For example, an eye condition may cause dry eyes, eye redness, pain, and blurred vision, while the symptoms of interstitial lung disease result in a dry cough and shortness of breath.
Early treatment is essential
The most important thing you need to know about rheumatoid arthritis is this: Early treatment makes a significant difference to your health.
We have advanced medications for rheumatoid arthritis that can slow down disease activity, keep it in remission longer, reduce inflammation, minimize joint damage, and maintain optimum joint function.
In addition to customizing your medication regimen to achieve the best results, we work with you to create a comprehensive lifestyle treatment program. Anti-inflammatory supplements can complement your medical care, and a carefully planned exercise program supports your joints.
Low-impact exercises promote joint function, but you also need to balance exercise with rest, especially during flare-ups. Vigorous activity during a flare boosts joint inflammation and puts you at risk of injuring the joint.
During a flare, we focus on protecting your joints. Depending on the stage of your rheumatoid arthritis, we may recommend splinting the joint or using a walking aid to take stress off the joint.
Whether you just started experiencing joint symptoms or need comprehensive care for ongoing rheumatoid arthritis, call us at Pacific Rheumatology Center or schedule an appointment online today.