Rheumatoid arthritis is not an uncommon condition, but it is normally thought of us one that exclusively affects the elderly. However, new information shows that people of any age may be susceptible to arthritis, and fist clenching could be a warning sign.
It is important to know whether your symptoms of pain could be from rheumatoid arthritis, as it is a chronic inflammatory disorder and autoimmune disease that affects the joints, frequently beginning with the hands and feet.
The reason that you should pay attention to these symptoms is because you could begin to experience rheumatoid arthritis at any age, contrary to popular belief, and if you are not diligent in attaining immediate diagnosis and treatment, eventually joint damage as well as painful and crippling deformities may occur.
Of course, pain in the hands and feet is not altogether uncommon without rheumatoid arthritis, so it is important to know the specific signs.
Swelling in one or more knuckles
It is common in RA for swelling or inflammation to occur in the middle or large knuckles of your fingers, not simply the knuckles at the tips of your fingers. The swelling is often symmetrical, meaning that on both hands you would have the same joints swollen.
While some swelling is "boney," the type of swelling common in RA is tender and soft. Warmth and redness of the affected joint is also common.
Swelling and pain in two joints for over six weeks
While swelling and pain in large joints is common, in order to be officially diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, you must have swelling and pain in at least two joints, for a period of over six weeks.
Stiff joints for more than an hour in the morning
Those with rheumatoid arthritis experience swelling in hands and on the top of the wrists, combined with stiffness. Sometimes elbows are often involved, meaning that it may be difficult to entirely straighten your arm. These symptoms are known to be especially intense in the morning.
Illness and elbow bumps
Rheumatoid arthritis is able to cause many symptoms (fevers, fatigue, and stiffness from inflammation) that begin to feel a bit like the flu. Sometimes, when you feel this, small bumps and nodules that feel tender will arise on the skin, usually around the back of the elbow called "rheumatoid nodules."
Those who have rheumatoid arthritis often feel as if they are "walking on golf balls" due to the swelling under their feet. Again, this sensation is most common in the morning, especially when rising from bed.
Along with the general sense of illness, weight loss and fatigue are commonly experienced among those with rheumatoid arthritis. While specific symptoms may come and go, these general symptoms are often pervasive.
Of course, if you are interested in getting more information about the potential of having rheumatoid arthritis, you can contact your health provider to check for rheumatoid arthritis. Four tests are usually done. Two measure the proteins called antibodies within your blood (Rf: Rheumatoid factor, and CCP: anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide) and two measure inflammation (ESR: erythrocyte sedimentation rate, and CRP: C-reactive protein). To be diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, at least one Rf or CCP test must be positive and at least one CRP or ESR test must have abnormal results.
It is also common to experience periods where the symptoms are heightened, although they are present for weeks at a time at least.
Being an autoimmune condition, it is cause by the immune system attacking body tissue that is healthy, in this case specifically the lining that leads to joints. Therefore, it causes joints to become sore and inflamed. As a result, bones, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments can be damaged or even torn.
Abbie is a twenty year old who was worried about the potential of having arthritis, as she was experiencing some unusual symptoms. Her father suffers from ankylosing spondylitis, which is a form of arthritis known to cause back pain, fatigue, and stiffness. Over time, it also impairs mobility, which is why Abbie was especially concerned about her potential condition.
She decided to contact "This Morning" for a second opinion regarding her symptoms. Dr. Chris Steele and Dr. Zoe Williams were onboard to help respond to caller's questions, along with the show's hosts Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield.
She explained to them, "I'm only 20 but when I wake up on the morning my fists are clenched. I'm wondering if it can be arthritis. I'm only 20."
Dr. Chris Steele responded to Abbie, taking note of that her father had ankylosing spondylitis, saying "it usually affects the joint at the bottom of the back. You are three times more likely to get it if you have a parent with it."
However, Abbie clarified that it was only her hands and fingers being affected, not her back. At this, Dr. Chris responded with what he believe the culprit could be, "I would be thinking about rheumatoid arthritis - you can get it in your twenties. You would need to be referred to a rheumatologist - especially if it is worse in the morning."
While it is most common in those between the ages of 30 and 60, it is very important to be cognizant of the fact that rheumatoid arthritis can affect those at any age, even children. Abbie's story emphasizes the need to be diligent when you experience unusual symptoms as it may be life changing, especially when you are aware of a family history of certain illnesses or conditions, as that often increases one's risk of obtaining it themselves.
The American College of Rheumatology has created a system that aids in confirming rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis via points. In order to have a definitive diagnosis, at least six points are required, and the points are as follows: Swollen and tender joints can account for a maximum of 5 points, with two or more large joints as 1 point, one to three small joints as 2 points, four to ten small joints as 3 points, and ten joints with at least one small joint as 5 points. Blood tests should be positive, and offer further points. At least one positive Rf or CCP offers 2 to 3 points, depending on how high it is, one or more abnormal CRP or ESR is 1 point. An additional point is eligible if symptoms have occurred for over six weeks.
Despite the efficacy of this system, it is possible to have rheumatoid arthritis without meeting each part of the criteria. Because of this, detailed discussions should take place with your doctor about whether treatment is right for you. Of course, RA drugs have shown to be very effective but also possess the potential for serious side effects.
Accurate and early diagnosis is important because certain forms of rheumatoid arthritis can be very aggressive. Permanent joint damage is even known to occur for the first year, so although it cannot be cured, attempting to slow or stop the damage is crucial. Treatment can save your joints from both damage and disability.