There are different kinds of arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis or RA can be defined as an autoimmune disease that affects and causes joint pain and damage throughout the body. One of the ways you can distinguish between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis (OA) is that when you have rheumatoid arthritis and you experience joint pain and damage on one side of your body, it’s quite likely that the other side of your body will be affected too. For instance, if the joint on the right side of your arm or leg is affected, your left arm or leg will be affected too.
For the treatment to work best, it’s essential that you get treated as early as possible. That’s why it’s important that you know the signs and symptoms to be on the lookout for. This article will provide a comprehensive overview of rheumatoid arthritis, its signs, and symptoms, home remedies you can use, dietary changes you should make etc.
Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is a long-lasting disease that’s characterized by joint pain and inflammation. Symptoms usually become worse during periods known as flares, while during remission, the symptoms dissolve.
Symptoms of RA include:
- Soreness of the joints
- Stiffness of joints
- Joint inflammation
- Joints losing their functionality
The severity of the pain varies, with some people experiencing worse pain than others. However, if you notice that you have any of these symptoms, don’t ignore them even if they disappear after some time. Make sure to bring this to the attention of your doctor as soon as you can, so that they can start an early treatment plan for you.
Diagnosing Rheumatoid Arthritis
It can take time for rheumatoid arthritis to be correctly diagnosed. You will also need to take some lab tests to confirm your findings. The doctor will do several things in order to correctly diagnose that you have this condition.
The first thing that the doctor will ask you to do is to describe the symptoms that you have. They will also ask for your medical history. They will then physically assess your joints, and check to see if there are any signs of inflammation and soreness. They will then check your reflexes and how strong your muscles are. They will then touch the affected joints to see if they feel warm or tender. In case they suspect that you have RA, they will refer you to a rheumatologist.
Rheumatoid arthritis cannot be diagnosed by just taking one single test. That’s why your doctor will subject you to several tests in order to check for different things. For instance, a blood test will check the levels of antibodies and acute phase reactants in your blood. These elements are usually high in your body in case your body is inflamed. This helps to support the RA diagnosis.
Other imaging tests might be done too such as X-rays, ultrasonography and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These tests might assist the doctor in knowing whether any damage has already been done to your joints and how bad the damage is. It’s also important that the doctor keeps an eye on your other body organs as well.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Blood Tests
You will need to undergo several blood tests so your doctor can confirm whether you have RA or not.
Tests you will have to do include:
- Rheumatoid Factor Test. This test checks for high levels of the rheumatoid factor. If you have this protein in your blood, it means that you are suffering from an autoimmune disease, such as arthritis.
- Anticitrullinated Protein Antibody Test. Even though not everyone who has RA tests positive in this test, in case you are positive it means that you have arthritis.
- Antinuclear Antibody Test. This is an immune test to check if your body is producing antibodies. Your body usually produces antibodies in reaction to an illness, so this is an indication that you are suffering from a medical condition.
- Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate. This is a test done to check whether your body is inflamed. However, it doesn’t specifically point to what’s causing the inflammation.
- C-Reactive Protein Test. When you have major inflammation in your body, your liver will produce C-reactive protein. If you have high levels of this protein in your body, this means that you are suffering from RA.
Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis
RA cannot be cured. However, there are several treatments that you can undergo to help you manage this condition. The treatments mainly involve managing the pain and inflammation. Reducing inflammation will help you stop further damage to your joints and body organs.
Treatment consists of:
- Taking prescribed drugs
- Alternative treatments or home therapies
- Changing your diet
Work together with your doctor in order to find the best treatment plan that will work for you. This will minimize your chances of long-term damage, plus help you have a more active lifestyle.
Medications for Rheumatoid Arthritis
The main aim of the medications that you take when you have RA is to help reduce inflammation and pain. Some medications minimize flares and help prevent further damage to your body organs.
Here are some medicines that will keep inflammation and flares to a minimum:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Here are the drugs that you can take to help reduce body damage:
- Disease-Modifying Antirheumatic Drugs. They block your body’s immune response. This drastically minimizes the progression of RA.
Instead of blocking your entire immune system, these DMARDs work by targeting specific areas. This is the best option for people who haven’t responded well to traditional DMARDs.
- Janus Kinase Inhibitors. This is a newly introduced subcategory of DMARDs. It works by blocking some immune responses. These are mainly used when traditional DMARDs and biologics don’t work. These medicines can help to stop inflammation and damage to your joints.
Home Solutions for Rheumatoid Arthritis
You can greatly improve the quality of your life by making lifestyle changes.
Here are some of the things that you can do:
- Doing low-impact exercises. Can help you enhance the range of motion in your joints and help you become more mobile. You can also strengthen your muscles by working out. This will reduce the amount of pressure on your joints. Yoga is also great when it comes to making you more flexible and strong.
- Adequate Rest. Ensure that you get enough sleep. This helps to minimize inflammation, fatigue, and pain. Rest more when you are experiencing flare-ups.
- Apply Heat or Cold. Use ice packs on the affected joints to help minimize inflammation and muscle contractions. Alternate this with hot therapy in the form of hot compresses or hot showers to reduce stiffness.
- Try Assistive Tools. Splints and braces can come in handy to hold joints in place in a resting position. This will greatly minimize tenderness. You can use canes and crutches to help you move around, especially when you have flare-ups. Install grab bars and handrails in your house, such as on staircases and in the bathroom.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Diet
Work together with a nutritionist or doctor to come up with a list of foods that are anti-inflammatory.
You will need to eat foods that have lots of omega 3 fatty acids.
- Fatty fishes, such as salmon, herring, tuna and mackerel
- Chia seeds
- Flax seeds
You also need to eat foods and fruits with antioxidants, like Vitamin A, C, and E and also selenium. Examples of foods that are high in antioxidants include:
- Dark chocolate
- Berries like blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, cranberries and goji berries
- Kidney beans
You also need to take lots of fiber so you can reduce inflammation in the body. Foods that contain lots of fiber include whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Strawberries are also quite good.
In addition, take foods that are rich in flavonoids. This will help you reduce inflammation in the body.
Here are some of these fruits:
- Green tea
- Soy products like tofu
It’s also important that you avoid foods that can trigger inflammation such as processed carbohydrates, trans-fats, and saturated fats.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Types
There are different forms of RA. Knowing the particular one that you suffer from will make a great difference in providing the right kind of treatment for you.
- Seropositive RA. In this case, your antibodies cause your immune system to attack your joints.
- Seronegative RA. This might, later on, change to Seropositive RA in case your body develops a positive rheumatoid factor.
- JIA (Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis). This affects people who are below 17 years old. Apart from the symptoms that are experienced when you have RA, you will also get eye inflammation and you might have challenges with physical development.
Seropositive Rheumatoid Arthritis
Most people suffer from seropositive RA. It might be generational and it’s more severe than seronegative RA.
Symptoms of this disease include:
- Experiencing stiffness in the mornings for about half an hour
- Pain and swelling in several joints
- Pain and swelling in asymmetrical joints
- Rheumatoid nodes
- High-body temperature
- Weight loss
Apart from experiencing pain in the joints, you might experience symptoms in other parts of your body. For instance, you might experience inflammation in your eyes, skin, blood vessels, kidneys, nerves, salivary glands, and lungs.
What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?
There’s no known cause of RA.
However, there are some factors that predispose one to get this condition.
- Being female
- It runs in your family
Things that can trigger this condition include:
- Coming into contact with certain kinds of bacteria, especially those that cause periodontal illnesses.
- Having a medical history of viral diseases, such as the Epstein-Barr virus that leads to mononucleosis.
- Suffering from injuries such as broken bones, joint dislocation or injury to your ligaments
- Cigarette smoking
- Being overweight
Rheumatoid Arthritis Hands
This might start off as a slow burning sensation that you might experience in your hands in the evenings and can gradually lead to you feeling pain in your hands, even when you haven’t used your hands to do anything. If not handled in time, this can change into more severe pain. Your hands might swell, become red, tender, rigid and warm. In case your cartilage breaks down completely, the joints in your hands, fingers and bigger joints might develop a grinding sensation.
As your condition gets more severe, you will develop synovial cysts. These are sacs that are filled with fluid and tend to develop around the joints, in the hands, and around the wrists. This can lead to further complications such as your tendons bursting. Bone spurs might also develop on the affected joints and look like nodes.
In case you have RA on your hands, you need to work together with your doctor and come up with exercises that you can do so that you can retain motion in your fingers. Couple this up with other kinds of treatments and you can greatly reduce inflammation or prevent the disease from progressing even more.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Pictures
As the disease gets more severe, particularly if you don’t get any form of treatment, the effects will become more evident on your hands and feet. You will experience swelling on your fingers, ankles, toes, wrists, and knees. You might have trouble walking as a result of your ligaments getting impaired and your feet swelling.
Your hands and feet can also get severely deformed in case you don’t get any treatment. This will result in your hands, fingers, and feet developing a curved claw-like look. In the case of your feet, the feet might curve upwards or inwards, and you will develop bunions, ulcers, and calluses on your feet.
You will also develop rheumatoid nodules. These are lumps that appear on joints that have become swollen. There can be more than one in the affected area and their size also varies from small too big.
Rheumatoid Arthritis vs. Osteoarthritis
People who have RA and OA both experience rigidity in their joints, which makes it hard for them to move around. In OA, your joints will swell after you have carried out an activity for an extended period of time, however, the affected area will not become red.
In addition, OA is not an autoimmune disease like RA. It’s a disease that results from wear and tears in your joints as you grow older or as a result of an injury. In most cases, it’s older people who get OA but it can also affect young people who might use a specific joint excessively like tennis players for example. It can also affect someone who has been severely injured.
Since RA is an autoimmune disease, joint damage is not a result of wear and tear; rather it’s caused by the immune system attacking the joints.
Is Rheumatoid Arthritis Hereditary?
Even though RA is not considered a genetic disease, it can be found in several members of the same family. This could be as a result of environmental factors and genetics or a combination of both factors. In case any of your family members has RA and you experience arthritis symptoms, it’s important that you consult a doctor about this issue as soon as possible.
Consult with a Doctor
If you have RA, you might experience flare-ups. This will then be followed by a remission where you don’t experience any symptoms at all. Each person is different so they are affected in different ways by the disease. You might experience minor to severe symptoms.
Even though you might not experience symptoms for a long period of time, it doesn’t mean that you’re getting better. In fact, arthritis tends to get worse with time. That’s why you should start getting treatment as soon as possible so that you can minimize any damage caused to your joints. In case you have observed any symptoms or you suspect that you might have arthritis, it’s best to consult a doctor.
Life Hacks to Make Arthritis Less Painful
You shouldn’t let pain control your life.
Here’s what you should do:
- Open jars using your upper arm. When opening jars don’t use your hands and fingers to open, rather, rely on strength from the upper part of your body. Do this by placing the jar on a piece of cloth and then open the jar with your hand while leaning on that arm with all of your body weight. This ensures that you open the jar with weight from your shoulders rather than from your wrists and fingers.
- Use rubber bands. Make use of rubber bands or dry and damp sheets to give you a better grip of any jars or bottles that you want to open. Use a thick rubber band for big jars and thinner bands for smaller jars.
- Use electrical gadgets. Instead of doing things manually, use electrical appliances. For instance, use blenders and food processors instead of whisking, chopping and mincing things manually. Doing tasks manually and repeatedly can cause your joints to ache. You can even use an electric jar opener.
- Use efficient tools. To make your tasks easier, use tools such as automated toilet bowl cleaners and spray on mildew remover. Also, consider using knives which have bigger handles when you are cooking so you can make tasks in the kitchen easier.
- Avoid carrying heavy things. Instead of carrying a large pot of water, consider carrying the water in small cups. Put the pot on the stove while it’s still empty and then fill it up the cup by cup. Alternatively, you can put the pot of water on a cart that can be rolled.
- Keep things within reach. Avoid bending and stretching all the time by putting stuff that you need in easy-to-reach places. In addition to this, spreading out the things you use regularly in different places in the house might make your work easier. For instance, put cleaning supplies both in the bathroom and in the kitchen.
- Keep up with dental hygiene. It can be quite painful for you to brush your teeth daily due to the small size of the handle. Create a bigger extension by cutting open a small part of a tennis ball and then insert your toothbrush handle in this opening. This will give you a better grip on your toothbrush when you’re brushing your teeth.
- Be a savvy shopper. When you go shopping, choose paper packing bags instead of plastic. This is because you can grip paper shopping bags with your arms instead of your fingers. If you happen to use plastic bags, then loop the plastic over your forearm instead of gripping it with your fingers. Just make sure not to let it slide up to your elbows since they don’t provide the required support.
- Make stairs less painful. When climbing up the steps, always start with your stronger leg. Then when going down the stairs start with the weaker leg and then follow with the stronger one. This will make your knees and hips strain less.
- Use scissors to open packages. Instead of tearing open condiment packages with your bare hands, always carry around a pair of scissors that you can use even when you are on the go. Use the scissors to cut open the packages. If possible, use a pair of scissors with long handles that have been specifically made for people who have arthritis.
- Do less cooking. Cook, less so you can apply less pressure on your joints. You can do this by cooking excess amounts of food so that you can freeze to use on other days. This will reduce the total amount of cooking you have to do. You can also opt to use a slow cooker so that you can just put the ingredients you need in the cooker and turn it on and leave the food to cook on its own. You can even use a microwave.
- Zip up with a key ring. It can be quite challenging to grip a small zipper. To make things easier, slip a key ring or piece of ribbon into the zipper so that you can use it to pull the zipper up or down.
- Minimize how much you use your hands. For instance, when you’re opening a door that’s heavy, instead of using your fingers or arms to push it open, push the door open with your shoulders instead.
- Don’t overwork or over exercise. While it’s good for you to get regular exercise, don’t get carried away and overwork yourself. For instance, instead of doing a 30-minute exercise at a go, consider breaking it up into three 10-minute sessions throughout the day.
- Move around. Don’t stay seated or standing in one place for long periods of time, as this can cause your joints to become more rigid. Get up every 15 minutes to stretch when you’re sitting on a chair, like when you’re watching TV. You can also keep shifting from one position to another one.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Early Signs
- Constantly Feeling Tired. If you’re constantly feeling tired, then this could be one of the earliest warning signs which can last for many weeks or months before other symptoms show. This is not an ongoing feeling but something that comes and goes for weeks or even months. You might feel depressed or even just ill during these times.
- Morning Stiffness. You might experience stiffness in your body during morning hours. This stiffness can last for several minutes or all day. If the rigidity lasts for several hours, it’s a sign that you have RA, while stiffness that lasts for a few minutes is a symptom of degenerative arthritis.
- Joint Stiffness. You might experience rigidity in one or more of your joints. This could be when you’re doing something or even when you’re inactive. In most cases, you will first experience it in your hands. This is something that can develop gradually or it might just start suddenly.
- Minor Joint Swelling. Your joints might swell slightly. The affected area might feel warm to the touch.
You might experience flare-ups for a couple of days or even weeks. The flare-ups will get more frequent over time. You will experience flare-ups on the same joints.
- Joint Pain. Once your joints get rigid, this will be followed by pain on the affected joints. The most commonly affected areas are fingers and wrists.
You might experience a low-grade fever. This is one of the earliest warning signs of this disease. But if the fever is above 38 degree Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit) this could be a sign of another infection and not arthritis.
- Numbness and Tingling. Swollen tendons can apply pressure on your nerves. This can result in numbness and a tingling sensation. You might also get carpal tunnel syndrome, which is a burning feeling in your hands. As your joints grind against each other as a result of damaged cartilage, they might produce a cracking or a squeaking sound.
- Reduced Range of Motion. Swelling on your joints can lead to damage on tendons and ligaments, making it hard for you to bend or straighten your joints. Exercising regularly will be quite helpful.
Other early indications of rheumatoid arthritis include:
- A general feeling of sickness or illness
- Parched mouth
- Dry, itchy and swollen eyes
- Discharge from the eyes
- Pain in your chest when breathing
- Bumps under your skin on the arms
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
Rheumatoid Arthritis vs. Fibromyalgia
RA and fibromyalgia have some common symptoms. However, despite the similarities, these illnesses are caused by different things. Fibromyalgia is a disorder which is characterized by musculoskeletal pain. You will experience exhaustion, insomnia and have a bad memory and temper.
The Arthritis Foundation (AF) states that fibromyalgia is a condition that’s related to arthritis. However, these conditions are marked by different factors. If you have fibromyalgia, you will be constantly in pain. Things will get worse when you don’t sleep or rest enough. In comparison, RA flares up and gradually get worse, especially when you don’t get any treatment.
Rheumatoid Arthritis and Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has anti-inflammatory properties and several health benefits. You can cook with it.
Some of the advantages you will experience when you use it include:
- Weight loss
- Lower blood sugar and blood cholesterol
- Relief from indigestion
- Apple cider vinegar has antioxidant properties that help to reduce swelling and pain. It also helps to accelerate the healing process.
One of the best ways to take apple cider vinegar is by drinking it. However, it’s quite acidic and can negatively affect your teeth. The solution for this is to mix it up with some water first before drinking it.
In addition, you can apply apple cider vinegar topically on the affected area. Just make sure to mix it up with some oil first, such as coconut or olive oil. Then apply the vinegar on the area at least twice a day. In case you experience any side effects, stop using it immediately.
Some studies have shown that mixing apple cider vinegar with your bath water can also provide you with relief if you have RA. Soak in the bath water for 20 to 30 minutes. This will help reduce swelling and rigidity.