Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease. If you have Rheumatoid arthritis, your immune system attacks healthy cells in your body leading to inflammation, swelling and pain in joints. RA can also cause problems in organs such as the lungs, heart and eyes.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a serious disease which needs a program of treatment to ensure you do not experience complications such as joint damage or coronary artery disease.
However, there are many effective treatments for rheumatoid arthritis that can help you keep on top of symptoms and enjoy a fulfilling life.
Knowing the main rheumatoid arthritis symptoms can help you get an early diagnosis and treatment.
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms
The main symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are:
- Pain in more than one joint
- Stiffness in more than one joint
- Tenderness and swelling in more than one joint
- The same symptoms on both sides of the body, such as in both hands or knees
- Weight loss
- Low-grade fever
Symptoms of RA may come on quite quickly over a period of days or weeks. Although it can cause problems in any joint in the body, it often starts in the small joints of the hands and feet. You may also experience flare-ups when the condition becomes suddenly worse.
What is the difference between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis and Osteoarthritis both cause pain in the joints. However, Osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear on the joints and most commonly affects older people. In contrast, Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease which can affect anyone of any age. With RA there is also more swelling in the joints and often a frequent feeling of fatigue.
Rheumatoid arthritis generally causes joints on both sides of the body to be affected while Osteoarthritis often starts on one side of the body. Both conditions cause stiffness after a period of inactivity such as on waking in the morning. However, with Osteoarthritis this often wears off in an hour while with RA this stiffness often lasts longer.
What should I do if I think I have rheumatoid arthritis?
If you have any of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, you should speak to your doctor. It is important to get a diagnosis so that you can begin treatments. The right treatment will help you feel better as well as reducing the risk of complications such as permanent joint damage.
Your doctor will do a physical examination and ask you about your symptoms. Your doctor may also arrange blood tests, X rays and scans. While there is no definitive test for RA, your doctor will build up a picture based on your symptoms and the test results. You may be referred to a rheumatologist.
Managing rheumatoid arthritis
While there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis there are lots of treatments including medication, physiotherapy and a healthy eating plan.
There are a wide range of medications that can be used to control rheumatoid arthritis. Your doctor will work with you to find the right combination for you. You will need regular reviews to see how your RA is progressing and to ensure the medication is working for you.
Physiotherapy and exercise
A physiotherapist can help you to improve your joint flexibility as well as improving your muscle strength to help support your joints. Regular exercise is important to ensure you stay physically fit and keep joints flexible and muscles strong. However, it is important to find the right balance between activity and rest as both are important.
You should start with very gentle exercise and increase the amount of exercise you do gradually. If your joints become warm or swollen while exercising, then stop and rest.
An occupational therapist can help you to complete everyday tasks while protecting your joints. They can also advise on support such as splints, or devices around the home that can help you with tasks such as turning on taps.
A healthy diet
Eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight can help you stay well. The NHS recommends a Mediterranean-style diet based on vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish and unsaturated fats such as olive oil.
Talking to others
Rheumatoid arthritis is often a difficult and unpredictable disease to deal with. Some days you may have a flare-up while other days you may feel quite well. This unpredictability can cause a lot of stress and anxiety. In addition, pain and fatigue can also cause stress and low mood or depression. You may also have feelings of fear, frustration and anger. These feelings are perfectly understandable given the difficult nature of the disease.
It is important to talk about theses feeling with someone you trust. Talk to a family member, carer or medical professional about how you feel.
People with rheumatoid arthritis vary in how much support and care they need. Because RA is such an unpredictable disease, care needs can change from day today. In addition, those suffering from RA may need additional emotional support to help them cope with the ups and downs of the disease.
At Mumby’s Homecare Support we have lots of experience of caring for people with rheumatoid arthritis. We can offer practical support with everyday tasks as required. In addition, our carers can help you, or your loved one, follow an appropriate exercise plan as well as help with nutrition, medications and medical appointments. Our fully trained, compassionate carers are always on hand to provide companionship and emotional support, too.
If you, or your loved one, need professional homecare support, call Mumby’s on 0800 505 3511 to discuss your individual needs.