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Identifying Rheumatoid Arthritis

Mar 23, 2012, 8 a.m.

Although rheumatoid arthritis symptoms can occur in people of all ages, its effects on the elderly can be especially debilitating. Diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis can be done by studying the symptoms, but another more conclusive method includes blood work that looks for signs of inflammation throughout the body, not just externally. X-rays, ultrasounds, and MRIs can also be used as tools to help doctors in diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis.

What's the Difference Between Arthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Typical arthritis refers to joint inflammation that manifests itself in swelling, pain, redness and warmth. Rheumatoid arthritis differs from arthritis in two ways:

  1. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs symmetrically, to joints on both sides of the body, whereas typical arthritis may only affect a single location.
  2. Rheumatoid arthritis doesn't only affect a person's joints, but can also affect the nerves, heart, blood, lungs, eyes, and skin.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms

Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can be varied, and diagnosis is often done with the help of additional tests. You may be suffering from rheumatoid arthritis if you're experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  1. Symmetrical joint inflammation that results in swelling, pain, and warmth. This is most often found in both hands, wrists, or knees.
  2. Stiffness in your joints when waking up in the morning, or following other similar periods when your body's been inactive for several hours.
  3. Feelings of fatigue in association with joint pain and stiffness. Remember, simply because you may be feeling fatigue doesn't mean you're experiencing rheumatoid arthritis symptoms -- but if the fatigue is in combination with joint pain and inflammation, this could be a sign.
  4. Chronic, low-grade fever with dual joint inflammation is also often seen as a potential warning sign of rheumatoid arthritis.
  5. Development of nodules under the skin surrounding joints. These nodules, which are best described as firm tissue bumps, can sometimes also be found on internal organs in the bodies of rheumatoid arthritis sufferers.
  6. Inflammation of glands in the eyes and mouth, as well as inflammation of the lining that surrounds the heart and lungs.

Risk Factors of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Although doctors still don't understand the direct causes of rheumatoid arthritis, they believe that genetics, hormones, and your environment all play a role. In addition to these three things, there are certain risk factors that doctors have identified as possible contributing factors -- several of which you unfortunately can't do anything about.

  1. Your sex -- Studies show that women are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than males are.
  2. Your age -- Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms are most commonly discovered between the ages of 40 and 60, but this doesn't necessarily mean that younger people or older people can't develop it.
  3. Family history and heredity -- The risk factor that many of us would rather live without, family history, plays an important role in the possible development of rheumatoid arthritis. It's likely that if your parents or someone else in your immediate family has had rheumatoid arthritis, you may face a period in your life where you may begin to experience symptoms.
  4. Smoking -- The one risk factor that you do have control over is smoking, which is said to increase the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, although it's not always a sure-fire bet.

If you're worried that you may be at risk for developing rheumatoid arthritis or feel that you may be experiencing early symptoms, talk to a doctor. Early treatment through medication, physical therapy, or surgery may be recommended.

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