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"Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is traditionally considered a chronic, inflammatory autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to attack the joints. It is a disabling and painful inflammatory condition, which can lead to substantial loss of mobility due to pain and joint destruction. RA is a systemic disease, often affecting extra-articular tissues throughout the body including the skin, blood vessels, heart, lungs, and muscles. About 60% of RA patients are unable to work 10 years after the onset of their disease."
That is the Wikipedia definition of RA. The actual symptoms vary greatly from person to person. Some people have juvenile arthritis starting as young as 12. Most people start getting symptoms in their mid-thirties. It also seems to affect women more than men.
Rheumatoid arthritis is different from osteoarthritis, the common arthritis that often comes with older age. RA can affect body parts besides joints, such as your eyes, mouth and lungs. RA is an autoimmune disease, which means the arthritis results from your immune system attacking your body’s own tissues.
Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
These can be more or less severe depending on the person and the type.
Nodules on Feet are a common symptom of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Most common symptoms are deformity in the hands and feet. Nodules (small bumps) can appear on wrists, fingers and other areas. Pain in hands, neck, feet, wrists, ankles, knees, neck and shoulders is extremely common. Other symptoms can include an attack on the internal organs and psoriasis. Some people also have vascular problems.
The cause of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is unknown. It is considered an autoimmune disease. The body's immune system normally fights off foreign substances, like viruses. But in an autoimmune disease, the immune system confuses healthy tissue for foreign substances. As a result, the body attacks itself.
My Rheumatoid Arthritis
My experience started when I was about 33 with random pain shooting down my arms, into my hands. I couldn’t shake hands with people without wincing. My feet also were very tender. I was tap dancing in a stage show and found that my feet would start cramping and aching to the point that I would suffer great pain by the end of the show. I had no idea what was happening. I went to the doctor and it was suggested that I see a specialist in arthritis.
My first diagnosis was that I had Fibromyalgia which is another autoimmune disease that no one seems to understand why people have it. I did not have any physical signs of rheumatoid arthritis at the time I went to the specialist. No bumps, lumps, swollen wrists or ankles. Those came one year later.
For a whole year I was taking Ibuprofen and trying to get sleep and seeing a therapist trying to relieve this strange disease Fibromyalgia, which as it turned out I didn’t have. I have heard many stories of people who have been misdiagnosed in the beginning.
I finally saw a different doctor who did a blood test to check the RF factor, and also the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) which measures the speed at which red blood cells fall to the bottom of a test tube. The more rapidly your red blood cells drop, the more inflammation is present in the body. A high sed rate indicates inflammation and the higher it is, the more severe the RA is.
He also checked the red and white blood cells. People with RA tend to be anemic.
X-rays may also be used over time to show the degeneration of joints and tissue though we did not take any at that time.
We found that the blood tests proved that I had rheumatoid arthritis.
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