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While symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are similar to other illnesses, diagnosing RA early on can be helpful in limiting the long-term effects of the disease. The illness is said to fluctuate in levels of “activity” and the treatment goal is to achieve remission where possible. Symptoms and signs include:
This can be caused by the body's reaction to inflammation, poor sleep, anemia, and medications.
When the disease is active, pain is caused by inflammation in a joint. However, if the joint has been damaged by RA in the past, pain can also occur when the disease is inactive or controlled.
Inflamed joint lining tissue may irritate the nerves in the joint capsules. The pain from compression is immediate, which is why RA can often lead to insomnia.
Swollen joints are very common and can lead to loss of range of motion of the joint.
This occurs because the capillaries of the skin are widened by the nearby inflammation.
Warmth of the joints is a sign of active inflammation.
Joints affected by active rheumatoid arthritis are inflamed and typically stiffer in the morning than later in the day. The duration of the morning stiffness is a measure of the severity of the inflammation.
Range of motion is limited by the swelling within a joint. Joints affected by longstanding RA commonly lose range of motion permanently.
Limping frequently occurs when rheumatoid arthritis affects the hips, knees, ankles, or feet. A child with rheumatoid arthritis may have a painless limp as the first sign of the disease.
Deformity occurs when unchecked inflammation leads to erosion of cartilage and bone as well as ligament loosening. Early detection and treatment is critical to prevent permanent joint destruction and deformity.
The chronic inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis often causes the bone marrow to decrease the release of red blood cells into the circulation. This lowers the red blood count to cause anemia when rheumatoid arthritis is active.
Fever, while not common in rheumatoid arthritis, does occur in some patients when the disease is actively causing inflammation. Because patients with rheumatoid arthritis frequently require medications that can decrease the normal immune response, it is important that when they develop fever, infection is considered as a possible cause. Infections can require aggressive treatment and interruption of some underlying rheumatoid treatments.