What Are Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms?

By November 16, 2020 Rheumatoid Arthritis
Man Rubbing Elbow Because of Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms

If you have rheumatoid arthritis, you’re probably familiar with its negative effects on your life, even if you don’t know the symptoms. This chronic inflammatory disorder attacks some of your most-used joints. It also starts a host of other problems throughout your body. 

Have you experienced any of these rheumatoid arthritis effects on the body?1

Arthritis Fatigue/Dizziness 

Many people with rheumatoid arthritis feel like they need to budget their energy more than they used to. This can look like:

  • Not having enough energy for normal activities 
  • Lower sex drive and energy for sex 
  • Less work productivity
  • Mental exhaustion and brain fog 
  • Intermittent or constant dizziness

Slight fever 

Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease. The constant body-wide inflammation can give you a low-grade fever. With flare-ups, you may experience flares in temperature. It also increases metabolism, which can increase temperature. 

Rheumatoid arthritis also lowers your immune system. A fever can also indicate an infection. 

Unintentional weight loss 

The inflammatory process takes lots of energy. Widespread inflammation uses lots of energy. This takes its toll on the body through unintentional weight loss. Another common symptom of rheumatoid arthritis is loss of appetite. This contributes to more weight loss.

Stiff and hard-to-move joints. 

Inflammation makes the joints bulkier, decreasing your range-of-motion. Joints on both sides are affected. Many people complain of hand and joint stiffness at specific times. Some common examples include:

  • In the morning, just after waking up. The night’s inactivity leads to more swelling and stiffness.
  • After inactivity in the day. Constant activity helps the joints move more smoothly.
  • At night. With less distraction and movement, joint problems become more pronounced.

Joint tenderness/pain 

This can present as a throbbing or aching pain. It can present as tingling or numbness. This can lead to several common problems:

  • Difficulty making a fist or opening your hand
  • Difficulty with fine motor movements, such as buttoning a shirt or opening a jar
  • Frequently dropping or losing your grip on objects

Joint deformity 

Unfortunately, rheumatoid arthritis is chronic and has no cure. The constant inflammation causes faster wearing of the joints and bones. Joint deformity is typically a later stage of rheumatoid arthritis. Some frequent joint deformities include:2

  • Swan neck deformity. This is a nodule that forms on your outermost and inmost finger joints. 
  • MCP subluxation. This is where the finger on both hands skew away from your body, instead of pointing straight.
  • Claw toe deformity. This is where the toes curl under the foot or flex upwards. 
  • Hitchhiker’s thumb. This is a Z shaped formation of the thumb.

Unusual symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis

The above symptoms are some of the most common effects. However, rheumatoid arthritis can have several odd presentations:

  • Eye problems. Rheumatoid arthritis frequently comes with dry eyes and eye inflammation. It’s not just uncomfortable; it carries a greater risk of infection. 
  • Hearing changes or loss. This symptom is uncommon but can come from chronically using NSAIDs, like ibuprofen, or anti-rheumatic drugs.
  • Indigestion and stomach pain. The overuse of NSAIDs can cause ulcers in the digestive tract. Diverticulitis (inflamed pouches in your intestines) and colitis (an inflamed colon) can also be symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

Am I at risk for rheumatoid arthritis?

 There are a couple of factors that put you at greater risk:

  • Gender. Females develop rheumatoid arthritis at a much greater rate than males.4 Women tend to be more susceptible to inflammatory diseases in general. It’s also thought that a woman’s hormonal cycle affects rheumatoid arthritis risk and flare-ups.
  • Smoking.5 Smoking releases cytokines, which are linked to the inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis. If someone has rheumatoid arthritis and actively smokes, the symptoms tend to get even worse. 
  • Obesity.6 Extra fat can also signal the body to release extra cytokines. Extra weight is also hard on the joints. This exacerbates the inflammation.

How is rheumatoid arthritis diagnosed?

Assessment

Your doctor will ask you about the physical symptoms you’ve been having, like the ones discussed above. If you’re having trouble with specific daily activities, be sure to mention them to your doctor.

Rheumatoid arthritis blood tests

Your doctor will likely order a few panels to see what’s going on inside your body. He or she may also order some tests to rule out other possible diseases. Your doctor may want to see your RF numbers and check for ESR elevation. An increased rheumatoid factor (RF) and erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) can give them a better idea of the inflammation and rheumatoid arthritis risk in your body. 

Imaging will be another important diagnostic tool. If your doctor suspects later rheumatoid arthritis that’s not an early stage, they can order an X-ray, ultrasound, or MRI. This will help him/her view of the damage to your joints. Your doctor can also use imaging to track joint damage.

Treatments for rheumatoid arthritis

There’s no cure, but the progression can be slowed. The main goals are slowed progression, pain relief, and optimal joint mobility. Some treatment options include:

  • Anti-rheumatic drugs. These drugs help reduce the inflammation in your body. These can be used alone or with other therapies. 
  • Joint preserving exercises. Tolerable activity helps rheumatoid arthritis-ridden joints move more smoothly. Your plan-of-care may include a physical or occupational therapist.  You may benefit from a low-impact exercise program, such as pool aerobics.
  • Pain management. Pain is one of the biggest problems related to arthritis. Your doctor may prescribe you pain or anti-inflammatory medications to improve your quality of life.
  • Surgery.7 If your arthritis has progressed and conventional methods haven’t worked, your doctor may recommend surgery. This can range from tendon release, a joint resurfacing, a joint replacement, or nerve surgery to manage pain.

Dr. Tollestrup specializes in pain-relieving nerve surgeries.

If you have rheumatoid arthritis that’s progressed into constant pain and reduced movement,  surgery may be your next step. Talk to your doctor about it. If your plan-of-care requires surgery,  Dr. Tollestrup would like to help. Let us answer your questions at 702-505-8781, or start the intake process with our New Patient Form.

References:

  1. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319810#early-signs-of-rheumatoid-arthritis
  2. https://www.webmd.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/ra-dont-ignore-symptoms 
  3. https://www.arthritis.org/diseases/more-about/joint-deformities-in-rheumatoid-arthritis#:~:text=Possible%20Joint%20Deformities%20in%20RA&text=Boutonniere%20deformity
  4. %3A%20The%20middle%20finger,while%20the%20middle%20joint%20straightens
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3078757/ 
  6. https://arthritis-research.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/ar2751
  7. https://arthritis-research.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13075-016-1171-2
  8. https://www.webmd.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/do-i-need-surgery-for-rheumatoid-arthritis
[This article is not meant to diagnose, prescribe, or project therapy outcomes. Please do not take what is written in this article as medical advice, and instead, consult a medical professional.]