Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can look different for each person. Your own experience and symptoms depend on which of your joints are affected, your treatment plan, and other things unique to you. Sometimes the symptoms get worse (a flare-up) and sometimes they get better for a while (remission). But RA is a chronic condition. There is no cure, and the disease usually progresses. However, there are treatments available that may give you some symptom relief and slow progression.
Living with RA can be challenging. Our goal is to help you understand your condition and symptoms and have more days when you are feeling well.
Understanding the basics.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune condition. This means that the body attacks parts of itself. In RA, the body’s immune system attacks an area around certain joints and causes inflammation. The joints can’t absorb shock or move as freely as they used to. The affected joints become painful and stiff and, over time, may weaken and move out of place.
Rheumatoid arthritis usually affects the joints of your hands, feet, wrist, elbow, knee, and ankle. All of these joints are important in everyday life, so learning about RA, sticking to your treatment plan, and tracking your symptoms are important. Once joints are damaged, they don’t get better. Your rheumatologist (a doctor who specializes in the treatment of arthritis, autoimmune diseases, pain disorders affecting joints, and osteoporosis) and other care providers will create a plan to help relieve your symptoms and lower the chances of flare-ups. There are also things you can learn to do to help yourself manage your symptoms and avoid triggers.
Symptoms of RA.
Rheumatoid arthritis usually starts around the fingers or toes and may spread to other joints. The symptoms can vary, but usually appear in the same joint(s) on both sides of your body. This means, for example, if your left knee is affected it’s likely that your right knee is, too.
The most common symptoms may include:
- Tender joints that may be warm and swollen
- Joint stiffness that is usually worse when you get up in the morning or after you have been sitting or lying for a while
- Tiredness (fatigue)
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
Other parts of the body can also be affected. People with RA are at greater risk of conditions like osteoporosis, dry eyes and mouth, infections, heart and lung problems, and lymphoma.
It’s important to talk to your rheumatologist if your symptoms are getting worse or you have new symptoms. You and your rheumatologist will work together see what stage of RA you’re in and make or adjust your treatment plan. Tracking your symptoms between appointments can help give you and your rheumatologist a clearer picture of how you are doing and how well your treatment is working.