Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder characterized by damage to the synovial tissue, resulting in joint pain and reduced mobility. Since it is a chronic inflammatory disease, rheumatoid arthritis may go far beyond typical arthritis symptoms and are not isolated to the joints. In fact, certain rheumatoid arthritis symptoms may indicate advanced complications. For instance, inflammation may occur under the skin as well as in the lungs and the pericardium, the protective sac that surrounds the heart. Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms may even be found in the sclera, or the fibrous tissue of the white of the eye.
The primary mechanism behind this condition begins with rogue white blood cells. Normally, these cells transport invading bacteria and viruses through the blood stream for elimination. However, due to reasons not completely understood, these same cells sometimes settle in the synovial membranes that line the joints instead. As a result, the most common of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms soon occurs, inflammation. Usually, the first joints to be targeted are the smaller ones of the hands, feet, and even the spine, although the larger joints can also be affected at any time.
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms differ from those of other forms of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis. For one thing, they tend to occur symmetrically, meaning that signs of the disease are present in opposing joints on both sides of the body at the same time. In addition, rheumatoid arthritis symptoms can eventually cause specific deformities, most notably of the fingers and hands. Some of the medical terms ascribed to these deformities are indicative of their severity, such as z-thumb and swan neck.
In addition to pain, swelling, and stiffness of the joints, rheumatoid arthritis symptoms may also include redness of the surface skin of the affected area. In fact, consistently red and swollen fingers and hands are common. As previously mentioned, symptoms may occur under the skin in the form of rheumatoid nodules, most commonly found on the arms. However, rheumatoid arthritis symptoms may also include some unexpected signs. Weight loss, occasional fever, and fatigue may also accompany this disease. In addition, most rheumatoid arthritis will suffer from anemia as well.
Women are three times more likely to experience rheumatoid arthritis symptoms than men. About 15-20 percent of those diagnosed with this condition will also experience extra-articular complications that affect other parts of the body, including organs. This condition most commonly impacts adults, with signs of onset usually appearing between the ages of 40 and 60. However, rheumatoid arthritis can affect anyone of any age, including children. While there are treatments available to help manage rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, there is no cure for this disease.