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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic progressive disease that causes inflammation between the joints. In patients diagnosed with RA, the immune system mistakenly attacks joint cells, which results in severe joint pain and swelling. The most commonly affected areas are the hands, wrists, and feet. It's not clear as to what exactly causes RA, but doctors have discovered certain risk factors including:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Genes
  • Environment
  • Obesity
  • Smoking

Some patients will go through periods where they do not experience any symptoms and periods when symptoms flare up without warning. Early diagnosis of RA is significant in preventing later complications. The following warning signs may warrant a trip to your doctor's office.


1. Fatigue

One of the first symptoms patients experience is extreme exhaustion. A patient's lack of energy can become particularly noticeable once it begins to affect their everyday activities, relationships, sexual drive, and work productivity.


2. Fever

People with RA tend to have a slightly raised temperature, which often comes prior to any pain or swelling within the joints.


3. Weight Loss

Unexplained weight loss often occurs in patients with RA, as the sickly feeling that comes with fever and fatigue may cause them to start losing their appetites.


4. Joint Pain and Tenderness

Pain and tenderness within the hands, fingers, wrists, and feet are characteristic signs of RA. The joints at the middle and base of the fingers and base of the toes may become tender when pressed on or moved.


5. Stiffness

The onset of stiffness within the joints often comes slowly and lasts for numerous days. This often occurs in one or two joints (usually within the fingers), and sometimes a general feeling of stiffness may affect the entire body.


If you or someone you know is experiencing any or all of these symptoms, it's important to visit your medical provider. Early diagnosis and treatment of RA can reduce future complications from the disease. MCO's joint and pain management specialists can help you find ways to relieve your chronic pain from RA. We also offer a chronic pain support group that meets on the second Thursday of every month at 5:45 p.m. in MCO's physical therapy conference room.