Rheumatoid Arthritis: Early warning signs
Do you sometimes experience pain in knees, elbows and neck? Wonder what is it – is too much work or is it something more serious. Beware it could be rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease affecting the joints which is the point where two or more bones meet. It is an autoimmune disease in which the person’s immune system turns against the self. Immune system produces antibodies which attack the membrane lining the joints causing tenderness, stiffness, pain, swelling, redness and a gradual loss of function in the joints.
The function of the joint is to allow free movement between the bones and to absorb shock from movements like walking, climbing etc. There is a capsule known as ‘synovium’ that protects and supports the joint. Synovium produces a clear fluid called ‘synovial fluid’ whose actual function is to lubricate the joint to facilitate movement.
However, due to unknown reasons, white blood cells travel to the synovium capsule and cause inflammation ‘synovitis.’ During the initial stages of rheumatoid arthritis, synovium which is normally a thin liquid, become thick making the joint swollen, warm and painful. As the disease progresses, within one or two years, the inflamed synovium fluid attacks bone cartilage within the joint and weakens muscles and ligaments surrounding the joint.
Many people ignore the early warning signs of rheumatoid arthritis as just regular joint pains due excessive physical activity.
- Pain in the shoulders especially at night that makes it difficult to lift arms and complete routine tasks like combing hair and wearing clothes
- Swelling and pain in hands and wrists as well as feet and ankles
- Appearance of nodules under the elbows
- Swelling in the knees due to build up of synovial fluid in the joint
- Dryness in eyes and mouth
- Pain in the neck
- Anaemia which causes fatigue
- In severe cases of rheumatoid arthritis, inflammation may affect air sacs within lungs and membrane that surrounds heart.
- Excessive weight loss
- Inflammation of the arteries carrying blood to the hands may become narrow, causing tingling sensation and numbness.
No one knows what causes rheumatoid arthritis. It could be genes, environment and hormones of an individual. Treatments include medication, lifestyle changes and surgery. These can slow or stop joint damage and reduce pain and swelling but rheumatoid arthritis is an irreversible condition.