There are approximately 1.3 million sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis across the United States. Interestingly, the condition is 2.5 times more likely to impact women than men.
While you might imagine the term arthritis with someone who is aging, it's also interesting to note that it's most common to get a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis between the ages of 20 and 50.
So, how do people with rheumatoid arthritis know they have it? What are the signs they experience that tell them they should be tested? Is a rheumatoid arthritis blood test the best way to find out if you suffer from this?
Read on to learn everything you need to know about people with RA and getting tested if you think you might have it.
What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
You might associate the term arthritis with aches, pains, and maybe some swelling. There are a few ways this type of arthritis is unique from other forms.
Rheumatoid arthritis causes swelling in the joints, which isn't uncommon with arthritis. However, with rheumatoid arthritis, the swelling is symmetrical. You won't feel it just in your left hand. Instead, it's highly likely that you will get swelling in both hands.
The other way that rheumatoid arthritis is different is that it's classified as an autoimmune disease. While regular arthritis may cause wear and tear in the joints, RA develops and impacts those afflicted through the immune system.
Understanding the Impact of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis impacts the joints in the body by causing swelling inside the lining of the joints. The swelling, if not treated, can cause bone erosion and joint deformity.
Another difference between wear and tear arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis is that RA can have an impact beyond the joints. RA can impact other body systems including the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, and blood vessels, in severe cases.
An RA sufferer who is early in the disease will often feel the impact in their smaller joints first. This might include their fingers, wrists, and hands. As the disease progresses or gets more severe, it will spread to larger joints and other parts of the body.
Risks Factors Associated With Rheumatoid Arthritis
So, what can trigger the disease for you? There are some associated risk factors that come with rheumatoid arthritis.
Females are more likely to get the disease than males. If someone in your family has rheumatoid arthritis, you have a higher likelihood of also having the disease.
Smoking is another risk factor for the disease. It seems that if you're a smoker and have a family history, your chances are increased that you'll get RA. Smokers with RA also seem to have symptoms that are more severe.
Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis
In a healthy body, the immune system helps to fight off disease and infection. Remember that rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. What happens with rheumatoid arthritis is that the immune system actually attacks the healthy tissues inside your joints.
Scientists are unclear what causes your immune system to start this attack. There are some factors that seem to contribute to the likelihood of getting RA. There doesn't seem to be a direct genetic connection. Although if a person is exposed to certain environmental factors like an infection from certain bacteria or a virus, it can trigger the disease.
There does seem to be a correlation between stress and the onset of RA too.
Signs and Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
For those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, you might find that you can get yourself into remission. In this case, your symptoms decrease, and you don't feel the impact of the disease. It doesn't mean it has gone away; it is just more dormant. Often those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis have no symptoms when in remission.
If you're having a flare-up, your symptoms come back and are exacerbated. Symptoms might include:
- Joint pain
- Joint swelling
- Joint stiffness
- Loss of joint function and deformities
Symptoms for those not in remission can also come and go. The severity of the symptoms can also vary. It's important not to ignore the symptoms when they flare-up, even if they seem mild. You want to keep them under control, so they don't get worse.
Testing for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Getting an RA diagnosis can take some time. It's likely your doctor will do a physical exam and look closely at your joints. If your doctor suspects you might be suffering from RA, you should have blood tests done. It's pretty common to continue to monitor with regular blood tests once you have an RA diagnosis.
Blood tests will look for the rheumatoid factor or RF antibody. The RF antibodies will line the tissue of your joints and are present for many people who suffer from RA. RF is not exclusive to rheumatoid arthritis but is often present.
Some of the RF blood tests include:
Blood tests will also look for:
Testing for RA panels include:
Once there is an RF antibody located, doctors will also look for these other indicators. The RF antibody is called immunoglobulin IgM.
Answering Your Questions About Rheumatoid Arthritis and Getting Tested for It
Let's answer some common questions related to rheumatoid arthritis.
What early signs should you watch for in rheumatoid arthritis? Early signs of RA usually include swelling in the joints that causes pain and swelling.
When will sufferers feel the most impact of the disease? It's likely that RA will impact sufferers more in the morning than at other times in the day.
What does a rheumatologist do? A rheumatologist studies rheumatology which includes:
- Autoimmune diseases
- Soft tissue diseases
It's likely your family doctor will refer you to a rheumatologist for further treatment and diagnosis if you believe you're suffering from RA.
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Take Control of Your Symptoms and Get Tested Today for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis blood tests can help you get the answers you need. The sooner you can understand if you have RA, the sooner you can work to get control of it too.
Take charge of your health and track your progress with Ulta Lab Tests.