Rheumatoid Arthritis affects the joints and can cause damage throughout the body. Fortunately, there are treatments that can significantly reduce symptoms.
It’s best to get started with treatment early, and knowledge is power, so let’s explore everything you need to know about Rheumatoid Arthritis.
First Things First… What are the Symptoms?
In order to identify RA, you have to first know what you’re looking for. It’s important to keep in mind that there are periods of flares and remission. This means your symptoms will come and go. Just because it’s not constant doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem, and this is a big reason people wait for treatment. The following symptoms require prompt action:
- Loss of the use of a joint
- Swelling of a joint
- Joint pain and/or stiffness
Different Types of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Many don’t realize that RA comes in three primary types. When you’re able to identify yours early on, it can help your doctor arrive at the best possible treatment plan.
Seropositive RA is the most common type, and it’s marked by a positive rheumatoid factor blood test result. This means your antibodies are mistaking your joints as a threat and attacking them. In rare instances, other body parts can become targets including the eyes, kidneys, lungs, heart, and skin. Because of this, many people mistake the disease for something else. A few signs you may have seropositive RA include:
You experience morning stiffness that lasts more than a half-hour
Swelling and pain are present in more than one joint as well as in symmetrical joints
You’ve lost weight without an apparent reason
You’re experiencing fever and/or fatigue without cause
Seronegative RA is a warning sign that seropositive RA could be on the horizon. In this case, both the rheumatoid factor blood test and the anti-CCP test come back negative. However, you’re still experiencing the classic RA symptoms. You and your doctor should closely monitor the situation.
Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis
Previously known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, JIA refers to RA in people under age 17. Although symptoms are similar to those seen in adults, it often also includes inflammation of the eyes and interference in healthy physical development.
What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Unfortunately, there’s not currently an answer to this question. The good news is that there are a few factors that indicate a higher risk for the development of RA. These include:
- Family history of RA
- Being a woman
- Being a smoker
- Being obese
- History of physical trauma or injuries like broken bones or dislocated joints
- History of periodontal disease
- Epstein-Barr virus exposure
How is Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosed?
So, you’ve recognized trigger factors and numerous symptoms. What happens next? Your doctor has multiple tools at his or her disposal to make the diagnosis. All cases are unique, so your visit will begin with a medical history questionnaire and physical exam. During this time, they’ll be checking for tell-tale signs of the disease.
If they think you may have RA, there are various tests they may opt to perform to make an accurate diagnosis. These include:
- Blood tests
- X-ray exams
Types of Blood Tests for RA Diagnosis
It’s important to work with a doctor with experience in treating rheumatoid arthritis. With so many methods of diagnosis, they’ll be able to examine your symptoms and match you with the most effective test to fit your unique circumstances.
Blood tests are a highly effective way to make an accurate determination, and there are five primary ones used:
- Rheumatoid factor test – screens for the presence of the rheumatoid factor protein
- Antinuclear antibody test – checks to see whether or not the immune system is producing antibodies that could be attacking your joints
- C-reactive protein test – detects the presence of C-reactive protein which is often associated with RA
- Anticitrullinated protein antibody test – detects the presence of an antibody that’s usually, but not always, indicative of RA
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate – determines if there’s inflammation in the body, but further testing is required to determine the cause of such inflammation
Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment Options
Once a diagnosis is made, it’s time for you and your doctor to decide on the best treatment option. The good news and bad news is that there are many. This means you have a shot at relief, but it takes knowledge to ensure the right method for you is identified.
There are a variety of medications on the market that can reduce your symptoms and limit the damage caused by RA. Your doctor can help you examine your options more closely, some of which include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs
Changes to Your Diet
You are what you eat, and there are modifications you can make to your diet that can make a big difference in the way you feel. An anti-inflammatory diet including plenty of Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A, C, and E, and selenium is typically recommended. This would include the consumption of:
- Chia seeds
- Dark chocolate
Just as important as consuming the right foods is to avoid ones that are known to cause inflammation. Watch out for highly-processed foods as well as those containing excessive saturated or trans fats. A good overall rule of thumb is to shop on the outer edges of the grocery store and avoid buying items located within aisles. This is where highly processed foods are typically placed.
It can be very helpful to keep a food journal. This allows your doctor a close look at what you’re consuming to determine precise changes that can be made to improve your overall condition.