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“Sudden arthritis” is not a real medical condition, but the symptoms of arthritis namely, joint pain and swelling can develop very abruptly in some people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .
Arthritis can also come and go, so you could feel tip-top one day and wake up feeling sore and achy the next.
Here’s more on why arthritis might seem to come on all of a sudden, including when you should call a doctor about your symptoms.
What Are Causes And Risk Factors Of Rheumatoid Arthritis
The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not known. Many risk factors are involved in the abnormal activity of the immune system that characterizes rheumatoid arthritis. These risk factors include
- genetics ,
- hormones , and
- possibly infection by a bacterium or virus.
Other environmental factors known to increase the risk for developing rheumatoid arthritis include
- silica exposure, and
- periodontal disease.
Medical scientists have shown that alterations in the microbiome exist in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Emerging research shows that the microbiome has an enormous influence on our health, immune system, and many diseases, even those previously not directly linked to the gastrointestinal tract. Studies have shown different kinds of bacteria in the intestines of people with rheumatoid arthritis than in those who do not have rheumatoid arthritis. However, it remains unknown how this information can be used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Treatment is probably not as simple as replacing missing bacteria, but this may explain why some individuals with rheumatoid arthritis feel better with various dietary modifications.
Measures To Reduce Bone Loss
Inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis can cause bone loss, which can lead to osteoporosis. The use of prednisone further increases the risk of bone loss, especially in postmenopausal women.
You can do the following to help minimize the bone loss associated with steroid therapy:
- Use the lowest possible dose of glucocorticoids for the shortest possible time, when possible, to minimize bone loss.
- Get an adequate amount of calcium and vitamin D, either in the diet or by taking supplements.
- Use medications that can reduce bone loss, including that which is caused by glucocorticoids.
- Control rheumatoid arthritis itself with appropriate medications prescribed by your doctor.
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Standards Of Care You Should Expect
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has published new quality standards on the standard of care that should be offered to every adult over 16 who has RA. They state:
There is no cure for RA. However, treatments can make a big difference to reduce symptoms and improve the outlook . The main aims of treatment are:
- To decrease the disease activity as much as possible so as to prevent joint damage as much as possible.
- To reduce pain and stiffness in affected joints as much as possible.
- To minimise any disability caused by pain, joint damage, or deformity.
- To treat other symptoms of the disease if they develop.
- To reduce the risk of developing associated conditions such as cardiovascular disease or ‘thinning’ of the bones .
How Do The Radiological Signs Evolve
Generally, radiological lesions gradually and slowly increase. However, the pace of this progression can be very variable. In extreme cases, some cases of osteoarthritis may remain stable for decades, while others progress very rapidly to complete destruction of the cartilage in the space of a few months. It is difficult if not impossible today to predict how fast the evolution of your osteoarthritis will be.
In addition, the evolution of pain and lack of joint mobility is not always proportional to the size of the lesions.
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Which Joints Are Affected In Rheumatoid Arthritis
The most commonly affected joints are the small joints of the fingers, thumbs, wrists, feet and ankles. However, any joint may be affected. The knees are quite commonly affected. Less commonly, the hips, shoulders, elbows and neck are involved. It is often symmetrical. So, for example, if a joint is affected in a right arm, the same joint in the left arm is also often affected. In some people, just a few joints are affected. In others, many joints are involved.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Severity Scale
In studying the progression of RA, it was discovered that there are four common stages of disease progression. Each of these stages requires its own specific course of treatment to help patients live the best quality of life possible.
Stage 1 Rheumatoid Arthritis: In the earliest stage of the disease, a patient experiences inflammatory activity in the joint capsule, synovial tissue swelling and resultant pain and stiffness of the affected joint.
Stage 2 Rheumatoid Arthritis: As rheumatoid arthritis worsens to this stage, damage to the cartilage occurs, which results in occasionally decreased the range of motion or loss of mobility.
Stage 3: At this severe stage of RA, not both bone and cartilage are suffering the ravages of inflammation of the synovial tissue.
Pain and swelling of the joints may become intense at this stage, resulting in decreased muscle strength, difficulties with mobility or even physical joint deformities.
Stage 4: Otherwise known as end-stage rheumatoid arthritis, joints may cease to function as pain and swelling increase to a state of immobility.
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How Does Rheumatoid Arthritis Affect The Entire Body
Like many autoimmune diseases, rheumatoid arthritis typically waxes and wanes. Most people with rheumatoid arthritis experience periods when their symptoms worsen separated by periods in which the symptoms improve. With successful treatment, symptoms may even go away completely .
Although rheumatoid arthritis can have many different symptoms, joints are always affected. Rheumatoid arthritis almost always affects the joints of the hands , wrists, elbows, knees, ankles, and/or feet. The larger joints, such as the shoulders, hips, and jaw, may be affected. The vertebrae of the neck are sometimes involved in people who have had the disease for many years. Usually at least two or three different joints are involved on both sides of the body, often in a symmetrical pattern. The usual joint symptoms include the following:
These symptoms may keep someone from being able to carry out normal activities. General symptoms include the following:
How Is Ra Diagnosed
Doctors that specialize in diagnosing RA and other types of arthritis are called rheumatologists. If your primary care provider suspects you might have RA or another type of arthritis, he or she may refer you to a rheumatologist for testing.
A rheumatologist will diagnose RA based on several tests. These include blood tests, imaging tests such as X-rays and MRIs and a physical examination.
Blood tests search for a protein called rheumatoid factor and antibodies called anticitrullinated protein antibodies . Other tests such as the erythrocyte sedimentation rate test and C-reactive protein test can find high levels of inflammation present in people with RA.
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How Fast Does Arthritis Spread
Generally, radiological lesions gradually and slowly increase. However, the pace of this progression can be very variable. In extreme cases, some cases of osteoarthritis may remain stable for decades, while others progress very rapidly to complete destruction of the cartilage in the space of a few months.
What Are The Less Common Forms Of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis can begin in less common forms. For example, it can begin with the involvement of only a single joint or a few joints. Sometimes, this can later evolve to the more common presentation of many joints on both sides of the body.
Rarely, the earliest symptom of rheumatoid disease is inflammation of a body area that does not even involve a joint. For example, the lining of the lungs can become inflamed to cause pleurisy many months before arthritis develops.
Occasionally, only a few joints are involved and the doctor may suspect another type of inflammatory arthritis. Again, this can sometimes only later evolve to become the more typical symmetrical polyarthritis by including many joints on both sides of the body.
The caveat is that by recognizing the early symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis rheumatologists and their patients can address the disease early, thereby affording optimal outcomes for those affected.
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How Common Is Ra Back Pain
When back pain is RA related, inflammation in the cervical spine is usually the cause.
RA primarily affects peripheral jointssuch as in the hands, feet, and kneesbut the cervical spine is the second most common region that’s affected.
The spine is affected when RA progresses. In other words, inflammation in the back and spine may indicate a more advanced disease. However, the damage can be seen on X-rays as early as two years after diagnosis.
A 2015 report suggests that more than 80% of people with RA have some cervical spine involvement.
Although pain in the lumbar spine, or low back, is not commonly a part of RA, it’s associated with RA. This means that if you have RA, it’s common to also have low back pain.
A 2013 study reported that up to 65.5% of people with RA may experience low back pain. The researchers also noted that people with RA who had low back pain reported lower quality of life and had an increased risk for depression.
A 2017 report in the German medical journal Zeitschrift für Rheumatologie also found that low back pain in those with RA led to a higher degree of disability.
What Makes Ra Get Worse
Different factors affect the pace and progression of individual patients RA. Some things you cant control, like whether you have a family history of the disease. In addition, although women are more likely to get RA, when men get rheumatoid arthritis, their prognosis is generally worse, Dr. Bhatt says.
But there are factors you can control and change. We know smoking makes RA more aggressive, so smoking cessation is key, Dr. Lally says. Also, people with heavy manual occupations might stress the joints further and might have quicker progression, Dr. Bhatt says. If your workplace can make accommodations for your disease, that will help. Read more about how to make working with arthritis easier.
Exercise and maintaining a healthy weight can also help reduce stress on the joints, Dr. Bhatt says. But talk to your doctor before starting a workout regimen. A physical therapist can advise patients on the right type of exercise, he says. If patients do exercises wrong it could stress the joints even further. In addition, getting enough sleep, starting an anti-inflammatory diet, eating less red meat, and possibly using herbal remedies like turmeric may help control RA, Dr. Bhatt says. Here are more healthy habits to adopt if you have RA.
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What’s New In Arthritis Research
Progress is so fast in some areas of arthritis research today that the media often report new findings before the medical journal with the information reaches your doctor’s office. As a result, you need to know how to evaluate reports on new arthritis research.
Arthritis researchers are looking at four broad areas of research. These include causes, treatments, education and prevention.
Researchers are learning more about certain conditions. For example in osteoarthritis, researchers are looking for signs of early destruction of cartilage and ways to rebuild it. For rheumatoid arthritis and other types that involve inflammation, researchers are trying to understand the steps that lead to inflammation and how it can be slowed or stopped. An initial study suggests that fibromyalgia affects more older people than originally thought and often may be overlooked in this group. Your doctor can tell you about other new research findings. If you would like to take part in arthritis research, ask your doctor for a referral to a study in your area.
Many people help make arthritis research possible. The federal government through its National Institutes of Health is the largest supporter of arthritis research. Drug companies do the most research on new medications.
Capturing Patients With Very Early Synovitis
Until relatively recently patients with RA were seen by rheumatologists many months after the onset of their symptoms. In the 1980s the median delay from symptom onset to referral to secondary care was over 20 months in a teaching hospital in Glasgow, UK. Over the last 20 years there has been a dramatic reduction in this delay between 199497 the median time from symptom onset to GP referral was 4 months and from GP referral to hospital clinic appointment was 1 month. Nevertheless, most patients with RA are still seen in rheumatology clinics more than 3 months after the onset of symptoms. Using a variety of strategies, early arthritis clinics have facilitated access of patients with early synovitis to rheumatological care. In Austria, for example, a nationwide public information campaign encouraged patients with symptoms and signs of inflammatory arthritis to contact their primary care provider. In Birmingham, UK, and Leiden, Holland, approaches have focused more on the primary care providers, who have been targeted with regular letters highlighting the importance of early referral, and on workshops focusing on the recognition of early synovitis. In addition, the primary care teams have been provided with a rapid-access system through which patients are evaluated by a rheumatologist within 12 weeks of referral.,
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Surgery For Spinal Arthritis
Surgery may be recommended for spinal arthritis if other treatments donât sufficiently relieve pain. The goals of the surgery may include:
Stabilizing the spine by fusing several segments together in a procedure called spinal fusion
These surgeries can be performed as open procedures or with a minimally invasive approach. There are pros and cons to each method. The surgeon will review and discuss the options before the operation.
What Are The Symptoms Of Rheumatoid Arthritis
The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include the following:
- Stiffness, especially in the morning or after sitting for long periods
Rheumatoid arthritis affects each person differently. In most people, joint symptoms may develop gradually over several years. In other people, rheumatoid arthritis may proceed rapidly. A few people may have rheumatoid arthritis for a limited period of time and then go into remission .
Cartilage normally acts as a shock absorber between the joints. Uncontrolled inflammation causes the destruction and wearing down of the cartilage, which leads to joint deformities. Eventually, the bone itself erodes, potentially leading to fusion of the joint . This process is aided by specific cells and substances of the immune system, which are produced in the joints but also circulate and cause symptoms throughout the body.
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Stage : Antibodies Develop And Swelling Worsens
In many cases, RA progresses to the second stage without being diagnosed. In the second stage the body makes the antibodies and the joints start swelling up, Dr. Bhatt says. It can affect other organ systems and cause inflammation there: the lungs, the eyes, a skin rash, and it can even affect the heart. Lumps on the elbows called rheumatoid nodules may also develop.
When it comes to imaging results, the second stage is more confirmative for the diagnosis, Dr. Bhatt says. It has kind of a moth-eaten, chipped off appearance on the X-rays. Ultrasound can also be done, and the most sensitive is an MRI, which would pick up if there are any problems even if the X-ray is normal.
How Your Treatment Changes As Ra Progresses
Early stage. A key focus is to control the inflammation. Thatâs especially critical in the early phase of the disease to prevent joint damage. You may get:
- A disease-modifying antirheumatic drug , such as methotrexate
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs , such as aspirin and ibuprofen, for pain
Moderate stage. This is when you may have trouble with regular daily activities because of pain. You also may tire more easily. There are several options. Your doctor may have you try combining methotrexate with two other DMARD medications, sulfasalazine and hydroxychloroquine. Another option is a stronger form of DMARDs, called biologic DMARDs, including:
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Very Early Therapy Within The First 3 Months Of Symptoms
The first 12 weeks of symptoms represents a potentially important therapeutic window in patients with very early synovitis destined to develop RA. However, treating patients within this phase presents three challenges: getting patients with symptoms of such short duration to clinic predicting which patients with very early synovitis will develop RA and thus require treatment determining how such patients should be treated.
Heres Why The Disease Progresses What To Expect And How To Stop It
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic condition for which there is no cure. But even though the disease is progressive, newer disease-modifying drugs may actually be able to slow or even halt it getting worse. We have many effective treatments for RA that help control the symptoms of joint pain and stiffness, but also prevent progression of the disease and the development of permanent damage, says Lindsay Lally, MD, a rheumatologist at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.
Early treatment for RA is key, because whatever joint damage has already occurred cant be reversed. Find out how to recognize the symptoms at each stage of RA, and what can be done to treat it.
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