Did you know that there are more than 100 different types of arthritis? Some are more common than others, but they all can affect your body’s joints in different ways. One type is called rheumatoid arthritis. It gets its name from a group of conditions called rheumatism, which is a word that means the symptoms involve pain and swelling in your joints and other tissues. If you’re living with joint pain, it’s helpful to learn more about how rheumatoid arthritis can affect your body — and how you can manage it.
What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Having arthritis of any kind means you feel pain, swelling and warmth in your joints. RA affects your body symmetrically, meaning that it causes pain in joints on both sides of your body at the same time. If you have rheumatoid arthritis in your left wrist, you’ll also have it in your right wrist. However, this condition can also affect parts of your body that aren’t joints. You might feel it in your skin, eyes, lungs or nerves, too.
Although rheumatoid arthritis affects your joints just like the other types of arthritis do, it does so for a specific reason. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder. This means your immune system plays a role in causing the pain in your joints and body. Your immune system fights off bacteria, viruses and other germs that can make you sick.
Usually, your immune system recognizes the difference between these harmful “outsider” cells and the helpful cells your body produces. When you have an autoimmune disorder, your immune system gets confused. It starts fighting off your body’s own healthy cells. This can cause many different conditions — one of which is rheumatoid arthritis. Doctors aren’t sure exactly why this happens or why rheumatoid arthritis causes your immune system to attack the cells around your joints.
How rheumatoid arthritis affects the body
It’s normal to wonder, “How does rheumatoid arthritis affect the body?” It’s a systemic disease, meaning it can cause pain in many different parts of your body. Some of the other ways rheumatoid arthritis can affect you include:
- Scarring your lungs
- Drying out your mouth
- Making your eyes feel dry or gritty
- Increasing your risk of heart attack or stroke
- Damaging the cells that line your blood vessels
- Causing rashes or small lumps of tissue to form on your skin
- Compressing your nerves, which can cause numbness and tingling
Signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis signs and symptoms can vary from person to person and in how much pain they cause. However, there are some general symptoms of this condition you should look out for. These include:
- Low-grade fever
- Loss of appetite
- Pain in joints on both sides of your body
- Joint pain and swelling that last 6 weeks or longer
- Joint stiffness when you first wake up each morning
These symptoms can come and go over time. Rheumatoid arthritis usually affects your smaller joints — like those in your fingers and toes — first. As it spreads, it starts causing pain in larger joints like your knees and elbows. If you often feel swelling or pain in your joints, it’s important to see your doctor so they can help figure out the cause. There are many medications that can help relieve the pain rheumatoid arthritis causes.
You can still live a vibrant, comfortable life with rheumatoid arthritis. And we can help. Visit mercy.com today to make an appointment with a specialist who can help you learn new ways to manage this condition.