Rheumatoid arthritis can be a debilitating condition, if the patient ignores the symptoms or develops complications. Appropriate and timely medical intervention is important for RA.
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Symptoms in the Joints
RA almost always impacts the joints, and it may be a few weeks or months before the initial symptoms manifest. The swelling that occurs due to RA leads to classic symptoms such as:
The patient finds it hard to use the joint, and it does not move as well as it did previously. This usually occurs in the morning. Many other types of arthritis lead to stiff joints in the morning. However, it takes people with RA more than an hour, sometimes several hours, before their joints feel loose.
The fluid in the joint causes it to become puffy and tender.
Swelling within a joint makes it painful whether the patient moves it or not. This can lead to damage and pain over time.
Redness and Warmth
The joints may be warmer and display changes in color related to the swelling.
Symptoms that Impact the Skin
Sometimes people with RA develop rheumatoid nodules as well. These are bumps beneath the skin. They are usually not painful and move easily upon touching.
Rheumatoid nodules usually appear on the elbows but may also develop in other bony areas such as:
- The underside of the forearm
- The back of the head
- The base of the spine
- The Achilles tendon
- The tendons in the hand
What RA Does to the Heart and Lungs
RA can cause damage to the lungs or inflammation in the lining surrounding the lungs. This condition is known as pleurisy. While there may be no symptoms, the patient may notice shortness of breath. The doctor can address pleurisy with medications that ease the swelling in the lungs.
Similarly, RA can lead to swelling in the lining around the heart (known as pericarditis) or heart muscle (known as myocarditis). The patient will likely not notice any symptoms but may experience chest pain or shortness of breath, in which case they should contact their doctor. This condition can increase the chances of stroke, heart failure, and atrial fibrillation.
RA and the Eyes
RA commonly causes the following eye problems:
Cataracts: This condition causes a clouding of the lens in the eye affecting the vision.
Dry eye syndrome: The eye cannot produce a healthy tear film causing dry eyes.
Scleritis: Swelling and redness in the white portion of the eye.
Other Body Parts RA Can Impact
Bones: The chemicals that lead to inflammation can also affect the bones. The hips and spine are usually affected. At times, it is a side effect of years of steroid use in the treatment of RA.
Liver and kidneys: RA affects the liver and kidneys only in rare cases. However, the medications that treat RA can affect these organs. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can have a negative impact on both the liver and kidneys. Cyclosporine can lead to kidney disease. Methotrexate can cause liver damage.
Immune system: RA drugs can make the immune system sluggish. This can increase the patient’s susceptibility to getting infections.
Mucous membranes: The patient will be more likely to experience a condition known as Sjogren’s syndrome which dries out moist places in the body such as the mouth, eyes, and inside the nose.
Muscles: The attached muscles get weak when the inflammation prevents a person from moving their joints. Or the patient may develop a condition known as myositis that weakens the muscles. The RA drugs that a patient takes may be a reason for muscle weakening.
Thomas & Bigler Knee & Shoulder Institute, led by board certified orthopedic surgeons Dr. Thomas and Dr. Bigler, receives patients for orthopedic surgery from Las Vegas, Nevada, and nearby areas.
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