Warning Signs of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is a serious autoimmune disorder that can affect people of all ages. Its early symptoms are often very similar to those associated with osteoarthritis, a common wear-and-tear type of arthritis that occurs along with the natural aging process. However, left untreated, rheumatoid arthritis can lead to severe and permanent joint damage. For this reason, an osteoarthritis diagnosis should always be confirmed by an expert who specializes in treating arthritis.
Some early warning signs of rheumatoid arthritis include:
- Swollen finger-knuckle joints – Typically, the swelling affects the large knuckles at the base and middle of the fingers, but not the small knuckles near the fingertips. The affected joints may feel warm, tender, and soft (rather than “bony”) and appear reddened. Symptoms like these that occur for no apparent reason and persist for more than six weeks could possibly signal rheumatoid arthritis. Similar symptoms that affect the small joints at the fingertips, the base of each thumb, and the big toe joints are more likely to be caused by osteoarthritis.
- Swelling at the balls of the feet – Many people who are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis describe a sensation of “walking on golf balls,” especially upon waking in the morning. This pain differs from bunion pain, which usually occurs at the base of the big toe and worsens when high heels or tight shoes are worn.
- General malaise – Flu-like symptoms, such as a low-grade fever and fatigue, may be accompanied by small tender bumps under the skin near the back of the elbows (rheumatoid nodules).
- Severe joint stiffness that persists for more than an hour each morning – For instance, it may be difficult to make a fist or straighten the elbows. Conversely, pain in the hip joints is more often are due to osteoarthritis.
To confirm a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, a doctor may order one or more blood tests. Some blood tests are designed to measure certain proteins in the blood called antibodies, including Rf (rheumatoid factor) and CCP (anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide). Other blood tests can measure the level of inflammation by evaluating the level of ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate) or CRP (C-reactive protein).
If you have questions about rheumatoid arthritis, you can speak with a doctor at South Tampa Immediate Care. No appointments are necessary at our walk-in clinic, where you will be seen by a doctor who is experienced in diagnosing and treating a variety of common health conditions.