Rheumatoid arthritis is a form of chronic joint pain expressed by stiffness, swelling and loss of functionality of the joint. One thing that is very likely in rheumatoid arthritis is a symmetrical pattern to the pain. That is, when one knee or hand is involved, the other one will generally be affected as well. The most common joints affected by rheumatoid arthritis are in the fingers and wrists. Unfortunately, this form of chronic joint pain can also cause fevers, fatigue and an overall unwell feeling.
Rheumatoid arthritis can be very serious. Because of the way in which this form of chronic joint pain develops, it can affect the heart, eyes, and lungs as well. Rheumatoid arthritis is actually a systemic disorder, which is why it affects so many different parts of the body.
The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is still unknown, but medical professionals have long suspected that a virus, bacteria, or fungus may be the cause. Many professionals also believe that genetics plays a large role.
The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are different for everyone, and they may not be constant. You will feel the pain when the disease is active, because this is when the joints become inflamed. Those with rheumatoid arthritis will often call this a “flare up.” When the arthritis is in remission, or inactive, the inflammation subsides. This can occur on its own or with treatment. Some people can go weeks, months, or years without another flare up, but the disorder will usually come back after a time, along with all of its symptoms. It’s just a matter of when. The length of time someone is without an active flare-up will differ from the next person.
As mentioned previously, because this form of chronic joint pain is systemic, it can also affect the organs in the body. Sjogren’s Syndrome is when the glands of the mouth and eyes become inflamed and dry out. Pleuritis is the rheumatoid inflammation of the sac lining the lungs. This causes coughing when you breathe in deeply. It is also possible for the lung tissue to become inflamed, which sometimes causes small nodules or sacs to form in the lungs. When the tissue surrounding the heart is inflamed, it is called pericarditis. If you have pericarditis, the intensity in pain will change with different positions such as leaning or laying down. Rheumatoid arthritis can also cause the number of blood cells to decrease, lowing your body’s ability to fight off infections.
If you suspect that you might have chronic joint pain, you should talk with your doctor about what symptoms you are having and any other concerns. Your doctor will then go through your symptoms with you, examining the timing of each of them and checking your joints for any inflammation or deformities. You may have X-rays taken, as well as blood samples.
If you believe you have rheumatoid arthritis or if you are diagnosed with chronic joint pain, your doctor may refer you to a rheumatologist, who specializes in arthritis and the symptoms and disorders that may come with it.