February is Rheumatoid Arthritis Awareness Month

Burning. Throbbing. Gnawing. Aching pain. Exhaustion. Pain that is synchronized in the joints. So, if the right knee hurts, so does the left.

We’re talking about rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, for short.

It’s an invisible, autoimmune disease and a form of arthritis that can be developed at any age. A rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis is difficult since the symptoms are similar to other diseases. A doctor may do a blood test to measure the C-reactive protein as an indicator of rheumatoid arthritis, as well as use a visual assessment of joints for swelling, redness and warmth. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the immune system doesn’t work properly and attacks the lining of the joints. Hands, knees and ankles are commonly affected by the disease.

Those who live with rheumatoid arthritis may have good days and bad days; finding the right treatment is often challenging. But, there are some things that those who are living with the disease wish others knew:

  1. Not all arthritis pains are the same. Rheumatoid arthritis isn’t the same as osteoarthritis, which occurs from normal wear and tear on our joints as we get older. It’s not that other forms of arthritis aren’t painful or valid. But, rheumatoid arthritis is considered to be the most disabling form of arthritis.
  2. There is not a cure. Any treatment for rheumatoid arthritis is meant to slow the progression of the disease and minimize the side effects and symptoms.
  3. Rheumatoid arthritis fatigue is a very real thing. Living with chronic pain like rheumatoid arthritis is challenging. Simple tasks like taking a shower, walking the dog and fixing supper may feel overwhelming and add to the physical exhaustion that is a symptom of the disease.
  4. Not all days are created equal. When rheumatoid arthritis hits – it may hit out of nowhere. Some days may be great, and out of nowhere, the symptoms hit like a Mack truck. So, when plans get canceled because of a flare-up – give grace and understanding.
  5. Understanding is appreciated, but being bombarded with advice is not always helpful. There is a ton of information available about rheumatoid arthritis. Those who have the disease are working with specialists who are addressing their symptoms accordingly. Over-the-counter treatments may work for some kinds of arthritis pain, but rheumatoid arthritis is a different kind of beast.
  6. Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease. This isn’t a matter of aches and pains. It’s a medically diagnosed disease of the immune system, and to an outsider – it may look like all is fine. But, not all diseases manifest themselves in visible ways.

More than 1.5 million Americans are living with rheumatoid arthritis. Most of them women though, as previously stated, rheumatoid arthritis can affect anyone at any age. The long-term effect of the disease can result in disfigured hands and joints.

If you, or someone you know, has any of the following symptoms – you may want to talk to your doctor:

  • Joints that are tender, warm or swollen
  • Joints that are stiff in the morning or after any period of inactivity
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite

Rheumatoid arthritis tends to show up in fingers and toes first before spreading to other joints – the wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles.

 

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