You probably hesitate to contact your doctor for mild aches and pains. But even mild joint pain and stiffness should be evaluated. There are a variety of conditions that could be causing your symptoms, and it may be a sign that you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA). If you have RA, early diagnosis and treatment can prevent irreversible joint damage and disability. Numerous studies have shown that early early treatment is crucial.
Early Rheumatoid Arthritis
In RA, your immune system, which normally fights infection, attacks the lining of your joints causing joint inflammation and pain. Early signs of RA may include:
Flu-like symptoms. If you have RA, flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue, fever, and loss of appetite can continue for weeks or months instead of getting better after a week or so, as is usually the case when you have the flu.
Joint pain and stiffness. At first you may notice joint stiffness in the morning and pain with activities. These early RA symptoms will usually improve if you rest your joint and let it recover. You may also notice periods of time when you have no symptoms at all. As your RA progresses, your joint pain and morning stiffness will likely get worse and last for longer periods of time. Your joints may look swollen. You may also have difficulty sleeping due to joint discomfort.
Rheumatoid arthritis progresses differently for each person. For some people, the disease will be mild. Some people have periods of time with more symptoms, called flares, followed by periods with few, if any symptoms (remission). For others, RA will be more severe with continuous symptoms that get progressively worse.
What Joints Are Affected?
RA tends to affect multiple joints instead of just one joint. It is also symmetrical, meaning that it affects joints on both sides of your body. When a joint on your right side has RA, the corresponding joint on your left side will usually have it too. The fact that RA exhibits symmetry is related to your nervous system, but the exact mechanism is not clear.
Early in the disease, RA tends to attack small joints, such as the joints in your hands, feet, wrists and ankles. However, it can occur in larger joints too, such as your hip.
Rheumatoid Arthritis in Children
There are several types of arthritic diseases that can affect children. The most common form is juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), also called juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. JIA and most other forms of arthritis in children are quite different from adult rheumatoid arthritis.
In children, the first phase of JIA is often joint inflammation followed by joint stiffness. You may notice your child holding their joint, keeping it in a flexed position, limping, or being unusually clumsy. Children can also have other symptoms, including fever, rash, and swollen lymph nodes.
Sometimes JIA symptoms remain mild and never progress to more severe disease. In other cases, it can cause joint damage, joint deformities, and growth problems.
If you or your child notice joint stiffness or pain or experience early signs of rheumatoid arthritis, make an appointment to be evaluated by a healthcare provider. Early treatment can prevent long-term joint problems and irreversible joint deformity.