Understanding the Pain of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease that causes painful inflammation in the joints of the hands and feet. Unlike osteoarthritis, which is caused by wear and tear, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that can also cause other health problems. This form of arthritis is most common in women who are older than age 40.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?

The pain of rheumatoid arthritis is caused when the immune system receives erroneous signals telling it to attack the lining of the joints, causing painful inflammation and swelling. Over time, this causes the cartilage and bone of the joint to become damaged, misshapen, and eventually destroyed. While doctors aren’t sure exactly why rheumatoid arthritis develops, it’s more common among women between the ages of 40 and 60 who have a family history of the disease.

Signs and Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

The disease first manifests in the small joints of the fingers and toes. You may notice warmth, pain, swelling, and stiffness in these joints. General symptoms include fatigue, fever, and unexplained weight loss. As the disease progresses, the feelings spread to other joints, including the wrists, elbows, knees, ankles, hips, and shoulders. Pain tends to come and go in episodes known as flares.

Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Although there is no cure for this disease, treatment focuses on management of symptoms and prevention of complications like lung disease, heart problems, carpal tunnel syndrome, and osteoporosis. Medications to relieve discomfort and reduce swelling include over the counter painkillers such as NSAIDs and steroids. Antirheumatic drugs help slow the progression of the disease and prevent permanent damage to the joints. Physical therapy can help you learn exercises to preserve the range of motion of your joints and continue to be able to perform daily tasks. In extreme cases where the joints are damaged, you may be a candidate for joint replacement surgery, joint fusion surgery, and procedures to repair damaged tendons. You can also try self-care strategies, such as gentle exercise, relaxation techniques, and applying heat or cold.

If you have noticed unexplained redness, discomfort, or swelling in your joints, see your doctor. He or she can diagnose rheumatoid arthritis using a combination of physical examination, blood test, and X-rays.