How bad can Rheumatoid Arthritis Get?

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I’ve been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Now What?

So, you’ve been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. How bad can it be? Autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis are somewhat unpredictable. In the case of RA, the body’s immune system inexplicably attacks the synovial fluid in the joints.

If you’ve been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis or RA, you naturally are wondering just how bad the symptoms of this serious joint disease may become.

While the severity of this disease varies from patient to patient, there are common symptoms that one should recognize and prepare for in order to minimize severity and progression. But don’t panic.

RA treatments have improved greatly over the years and a combination of medical therapy and self-care can help you manage rheumatoid arthritis symptoms for a better quality of life.

Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms

According to the Mayo Clinic, the chronic inflammation related to rheumatoid arthritis may not only damage the joints, but may also cause damage to the eyes, lungs, heart, blood vessels, and skin.

RA differs from osteoarthritis in that the inflammation is not the result of the ravages of time and overuse, but inflammation of the joint lining that may cause the erosion of bone and ultimately joint deformity.

In a segment on CNN, journalist Jim Morelli reported on the symptoms and treatment of RA patients.

Those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis may experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Joint tenderness, swelling, and inflammation
  • Morning stiffness or immobility following periods of inactivity
  • Weight loss
  • Tiredness
  • Elevated body temperature/fever

Living with rheumatoid arthritis can be unpredictable. The above symptoms may occur infrequently and dissipate quickly or may become constant and debilitating.

Rheumatoid Arthritis severity scale

In studying the progression of RA, it was discovered that there are four common stages of disease progression. Each of these stages requires its own specific course of treatment to help patients live the best quality of life possible.

Stage 1 Rheumatoid Arthritis: In the earliest stage of the disease, a patient experiences inflammatory activity in the joint capsule, synovial tissue swelling and resultant pain and stiffness of the affected joint(s).

Stage 2 Rheumatoid Arthritis: As rheumatoid arthritis worsens to this stage, damage to the cartilage occurs, which results in occasionally decreased the range of motion or loss of mobility.

Stage 3: At this severe stage of RA, not both bone and cartilage are suffering the ravages of inflammation of the synovial tissue.

Pain and swelling of the joints may become intense at this stage, resulting in decreased muscle strength, difficulties with mobility or even physical joint deformities.

Stage 4: Otherwise known as “end-stage” rheumatoid arthritis, joints may cease to function as pain and swelling increase to a state of immobility.

How quickly does rheumatoid arthritis spread?

The time frame for which rheumatoid arthritis may progress from stage 1 through stage 4 varies from patient to patient.

It is vital that the disease is diagnosed and treated as early as possible to help slow the progression, as well as treat symptoms to ensure optimal quality of life. The progression is usually slow, worsening over the years.

In some cases, the condition will go into remission for weeks or months at a time, when the patient will experience few or no symptoms at all.

What is the worst case scenario with rheumatoid arthritis?

You may be wondering if RA gets worse with age. Progressive rheumatoid arthritis may result in the destruction of joint structures, limiting function and mobility.

In the worst cases, fingers may become bent, shortened and misaligned. Patients with end-stage rheumatoid arthritis may require assistance with the activities of daily living and may need a walker or wheelchair for ambulation.

According to WebMD, RA can result in inflammation of the knees requiring surgical knee replacement, damage to the structures in the cervical spine, or damage to organs such as the eyes or lungs.

Rheumatoid arthritis may also contribute to coronary artery disease by speeding the development of arterial plaque. This may increase the risk of stroke if these plaques build up in the arteries of the head and neck.

Some medicines often prescribed to treat rheumatoid arthritis may contribute to the risk of osteoporosis, which can cause further debilitation and lack of mobility.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, arthritis medications may contribute to hair loss, although this may also be attributed to the disease itself.

The RA medication Methotrexate is believed to be responsible for the hair loss in up to 3 percent of patients who take the drug.

Severe rheumatoid arthritis life expectancy

While rheumatoid arthritis is considered a chronic condition and not a terminal illness, there is evidence may shorten life expectancy by up to 15 years in the most serious cases.

The National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society advises that patients that are diagnosed and treated appropriately at an early age are more likely to have better outcomes. However, RA sufferers may be at higher risk of developing lung disease, heart disease, and some cancers.

Severe rheumatoid arthritis pain relief

Your rheumatologist will prescribe a variety of prescription medications to keep your RA pain and symptoms at bay.

Along with medical therapy, there are steps you can take to protect your joints and improve your overall health for fewer RA-related problems.

Stretching, low-impact exercise, warm baths, and showers, as well as paraffin wax dips may all contribute to keeping joints supple.

Rebecca Manno, MD suggests maintaining a healthy weight and improving your diet to include fewer inflammatory foods may ease rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Self-care can also be very helpful for emotional well-being.

Meditation, spending time in nature, and connecting with loved ones or even support groups can relieve stress and worry about health-related problems.

There is no denying that life with RA can at times be a struggle, but treating yourself with compassion working within your physical limits can make things a little easier.

Be good to yourself, be good to your joints, and make wellness a priority for a happier life with RA.

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