chronic inflammatory disorder called rheumatoid arthritis can cause significant
pain and discomfort. Though most diagnoses occur in individuals between ages 40
and 60, the early signs and symptoms can occur prior to this and may easily go
Early Signs Can Go Unnoticed
to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1.5 million adults in
the United States suffered from RA in 2007. Many more may have it. The early
symptoms of this condition can go unnoticed for years. Many healthy individuals
living an active lifestyle may already have the condition by the time they
enter their middle years.
complicate diagnosis even more, patients do not often suffer the same symptoms.
What one individual experiences is not necessarily experienced by another. This
fluctuation of symptoms results in three possible characterizations of the
individuals, the condition is monocyclic, meaning symptoms occur once and may
not occur again for two to five years. Others experience activity levels of
these symptoms that change over the course of the condition, worsening and
improving throughout. This is called polycyclic. A third characterization is
often more common. The RA presents itself and increases in severity over a
period of time; it does not come and go.
makes spotting early symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis difficult to do in some
individuals. However, if it is possible to diagnose early on, treatment may
help to reduce pain.
Common Early Symptoms
cases, early symptoms of RA are present in smaller joints first. The most
common occurrence is in the fingers at the joints that connect the fingers to
the hands. It can also occur in the toes in its earliest stages. Symptoms may
- tender joints
- swelling in the
- a feeling of
warmth in the joint areas, sometimes spreading outward
- Many individuals
wake up to stiff or difficult-to-move joints in the early stages that
improves over a period of hours.
symptoms are often most commonly associated with the condition. However, other
symptoms may also occur that tend to not relate specifically to joint pain. For
example, many individuals have a low-grade fever that is unexplained by other
sources. Some people have a general feeling of being ill, though they may be
unable to pinpoint a specific cause. Others have a loss of appetite at this
stage, again without any easily identified cause.
individuals with RA will see a significant worsening of symptoms over time. The
early signs of rheumatoid arthritis progress from this point to symptoms such
as the following:
- red and swollen
joints that are painful
- painless, red
lumps on the skin, called rheumatoid nodules, that can occur on other
joints including the knees, toes, and elbows
- chest pain and
- dry mouth and
painfully dry eyes
to Johns Hopkins Medicine, early symptoms can begin to occur as early as age
20. Some, on the other hand, experience symptoms as late as age 50 without
having previously experienced any associated joint pain or discomfort.
only way for doctors to know if a patient has the early signs of RA is to
conduct diagnostic testing on the individual. This often begins with a patient
history and an exam. Most often, doctors will use X-rays to gather specific
data, but this is possible only when the symptoms begin to affect specific
joints. Blood tests can help to pinpoint autoimmune rheumatoid factors, as
anemia is present in about half of those with the condition.
though, there is no test to specifically define early-stage RA. Rather, doctors
will need to use long-term observation to determine if there are changes
occurring to the joints and, if so, if the condition seems to be rheumatoid
arthritis rather than other types of arthritic conditions.
no cure for RA. There’s no way to prevent it or to slow its progress. By
understanding the early symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, though, doctors may
be able to provide pain management to patients.