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What is Rheumatoid Arthritis? Know causes, symptoms and importance of early diagnosis

Rheumatoid Arthritis can go through periods of flare-ups where symptoms worsen followed by periods of remission where symptoms may improve or even disappear completely for a while. This unpredictability can make it challenging for individuals with RA to plan their lives.

Kristina Das Written By: Kristina Das @ New Delhi Published on: October 11, 2023 16:15 IST
Rheumatoid Arthritis
Image Source : FREEPIK Know the causes, symptoms and importance of early diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis.

It is crucial to understand the impact of rheumatoid arthritis on daily life to provide appropriate support and empathy for those living with this condition. The challenges faced by the patients go beyond simple joint pain and they encompass physical limitations that affect mobility as well as emotional consequences that significantly alter one's quality of life. In the below article, we provide strategies for managing symptoms, raising awareness about the importance of early diagnosis, appropriate treatment, and improving quality of life.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that primarily affects the joints. Unlike other types of arthritis which occur due to wear and tear on the joints, RA is caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking healthy tissues. This results in inflammation, pain, and swelling in the affected joints.  One of the most distinct symptoms of RA is morning stiffness that lasts for more than an hour. This can make it difficult for those with RA to get out of bed or perform their daily activities. Joint pain and swelling are also common symptoms, particularly in smaller joints such as those in hands and feet. Interestingly, RA does not only affect joints but can also lead to systemic symptoms such as fatigue, fever, and weight loss. Another intriguing aspect of RA is its unpredictable nature. 

According to Dr Niharika Gill, Consultant Rheumatologist at Lilavati Hospital, living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can have a significant impact on daily life. It's a multisystem disease involving Skin, Eyes and Lungs. They also require an Ophthalmologist's examination. Everyday tasks that used to be taken for granted can become challenging and sometimes even impossible.  RA will take a toll on one’s overall well-being. The physical limitations of rheumatoid arthritis can be both frustrating and overwhelming for those who experience it. The chronic inflammation in the joints leads to stiffness, pain, and swelling, making even simple everyday tasks feel like monumental challenges. From gripping a doorknob, wearing clothes, combing hair, and holding objects to buttoning a shirt or tying shoelaces, these once effortless motions become excruciatingly difficult. Perhaps one of the most detrimental effects of rheumatoid arthritis is its impact on mobility. The joint damage caused by this condition diminishes flexibility and range of motion, making it difficult to walk, climb stairs, or even get in and out of bed. As a result, independence is compromised, as individuals must rely on assistive devices like walkers or wheelchairs for support.
Apart from limited mobility, fatigue is another significant limitation associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Beyond just feeling tired after physical exertion or a long day which is common for anyone, those with this condition experience exhaustion that can persist regardless of rest or sleep. The constant pain and discomfort can impact one's mental well-being, leading to increased anxiety or depression. One will be irritated, frustrated, agitated, and feel lonely due to the inability to cope with RA. Flare-ups can occur at any time, making it difficult to plan or engage in activities. This unpredictability often leads to frustration and feelings of helplessness. The physical limitations imposed by RA may also impact one's self-esteem and sense of identity, as they may no longer be able to participate in hobbies or perform tasks they once enjoyed  Another emotional challenge faced by individuals with RA is the fear of dependency on others. As the disease progresses, many find themselves relying more on their loved ones for assistance with daily activities such as dressing, cooking or even walking. This loss of independence can lead to feelings of guilt or burden towards their support system and hinder personal growth.
Timely diagnosis and treatment: When it comes to diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis (RA), doctors use a combination of patient symptoms, physical examination findings, and tests. Initially, doctors ask about the patient's medical history, focusing on joint pain and stiffness. They also look for other characteristic RA symptoms such as fatigue, fever, and weight loss. The physical examination includes checking for swelling, warmth, tenderness, or deformity in the joints.  X-rays can be recommended to assess joint damage or changes over time. Moreover, ultrasounds or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans can provide detailed images of inflamed joints. By initiating suitable interventions promptly after diagnosis, individuals with RA can experience improved joint health and overall well-being. Early detection paves the way for more effective management strategies that enable
Patients with RA should follow these vital tips: One important tip is to stay active. Engaging in regular physical activity helps to maintain flexibility, strengthen muscles, and reduce joint pain. It is essential to find low-impact exercises that work for you, such as swimming or yoga.  Another helpful tip is to manage stress effectively. Stress not only exacerbates the symptoms of arthritis but also compromises overall health. Incorporating stress-relieving techniques into your daily routine, such as deep breathing exercises or practising mindfulness, can be beneficial for patients. Maintaining a healthy diet plays a crucial role in managing arthritis symptoms. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to decrease inflammation and reduce the progression of joint damage. Including sources of omega-3s in the diet like fatty fish or walnuts could be beneficial for easing arthritis discomfort. When it comes to daily activities such as cooking, bathing, and walking, making lifestyle modifications can greatly improve the quality of life for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients. In the kitchen, using lightweight and ergonomic utensils can reduce strain on joints. In terms of bathing, investing in handrails and non-slip mats can provide extra support and increase safety. Using a shower chair or bench can also alleviate pressure on sensitive joints during grooming routines. Moreover, opting for warm showers instead of hot baths may help to soothe achy muscles and joint stiffness. Finding the right combination of strategies and treatments through trial and error is key to living well with this condition.

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