The pancreas is a poorly understood and highly under-estimated digestive organ. It is hidden deep within our abdomen, behind the stomach. It is responsible for performing the formidable job of digesting fats! It is also tasked with the production of important enzymes and hormones (like insulin and glucagon), that are necessary for digestion.
Arthritis refers to a painful condition that tends to affect the joints of the body, causing stiffness and general discomfort. It is, unfortunately, a very common condition, especially for those who are older. Different types of arthritis cause different types of problems. Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), for example, is an autoimmune disease that results from an attack on the joints from the body’s immune system. Generally, it starts out in the small, fine joints, like those of the hands, but it doesn’t take long to spread to other areas. At this time, there is no cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis.
In spreading throughout the body, RA may create other problems as well, directly and indirectly. RA can cause pain in other joints, such as the knees, the elbows, the back, the neck, the ankles, and even certain muscle groups. However, there are other issues that may develop alongside RA. Constant inflammation from attack, for example, can create complications for the body, such as damage to important organs, such as the heart, lungs and blood vessels. Because of RA’s nature as a progressive disease, the longer it goes on, the more likely some of these other complications will arise from it.
As with any other medical condition, it’s critical that you keep an eye on your symptoms as they develop. This can greatly improve your quality of life on a day to day basis, and allows you to alert a medical professional when something new arises. While RA cannot be cured, if new symptoms are tackled immediately, the damage they can do may be limited. Because of this, keeping track of obvious things, like an increase in pain, as well as less conspicuous things, like a little more stiffness somewhere you’re not used to, becomes very important for your ongoing health.
In this self-monitoring, the appearance of new symptoms is just as important as the development of existing symptoms. Both can mean changes to your plan for dealing with RA. Your doctor will depend on this information in order to adjust your plan and ensure that you receive the proper treatment. Knowing all of the details about what is ‘normal’ and what is not for your body will put you in a better position to have these conversations about RA, and really, any other illnesses as well, with your doctor so that you both can become better informed about the situation.
There are a number of fairly common things to keep in mind when assessing RA. Obviously, pain comes to mind. Keeping track of when and where pain occurs, as well as the severity of the pain, and its duration are key. You might also consider any stiffness, or other unusual occurrences that happen in the same areas of the body or at the same time. They may be related to RA, even if they don’t seem like it. Here are some obvious, and not so obvious, symptoms associated with RA of which you should watch and keep your doctor informed:
If you experience problems with your eyes, such as pain, redness, or blurry vision, these may also be associated with RA. Generally, any issue with your eyes should be checked out immediately, as serious eye problems can often lead to permanent vision loss. While you might not expect RA to have anything to do with vision problems, a detached retina, which is one of the complications associated with RA, can cause blindness. This is a potential outcome of the inflammation caused by RA spreading to affect the eye. See a doctor as soon as possible if you’re experiencing eye issues.
Like coughs, there are a lot of illnesses that can lead to skin conditions. However, keeping in mind that a skin rash may be a symptom of RA can save you headaches in the future. In some cases, rashes appear in response to medication; in this case, it is wise to consult your doctor and determine if there is an allergy to the medication and if there is a safer dose or alternative treatment. However, skin rashes may also indicate RA progression beyond the joints, which will also call for an evaluation, and perhaps an increase or change of treatment.
When RA affects the spine, it can create issues with your balance due to stiffness. You may also experience a feeling of numbness. Fortunately, RA treatments are effective at reducing these symptoms, and it’s a good thing, too. Spinal complications of any nature are generally serious, and they aren’t restricted to RA; one of the lesser-known complications of type 2 diabetes is nerve damage, and diabetes itself is an illness that’s more likely to develop for those already suffering from RA. If you experience both RA and Diabetes, make sure you manage both well and communicate regularly with your doctor.
Also associated with persistent coughs and shortness of breath, chest pain is another potential symptom that may arise with RA. Like shortness of breath, it can be a sign of serious problems, namely, heart trouble. If you suffer from RA and have heart pain, along with shortness of breath, it’s worth looking into. Heart disease is serious, but it can be managed via lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise. Keeping your blood pressure in check can also help. RA already may affect the heart and the circulatory system; it’s up to you to avoid taxing your body any further.
Like inflammation, fever is one of the body’s responses to infection from foreign elements. When it appears, you might associate it with a cold, much like general aches and pains, fatigue, or coughing. However, the difference between a fever from a cold or other infection and one caused by RA is usually the severity. A mild fever of only a few degrees above normal may be attributed to RA, while a more serious fever is likely a matter of infection. If you experience a low-grade fever along with other symptoms like joint pain, you should consider speaking to a doctor.
As you might expect, along with persistent coughing, it’s not uncommon to have shortness of breath as a symptom of RA. This could come as a result of inflammation of the lungs, but there are other factors as well. Ultimately, if shortness of breath arises, seeing a doctor is critical, as it could be a sign of a life-threatening condition. In the interim, take care to avoid activities like smoking, which can make it even more difficult to breathe. Weight loss is also helpful, both for your lungs, and because of the decreased weight your joints will have to carry.
There are a lot of conditions that can send you into coughing fits, so it might seem fine to shrug this one off, especially if you’ve been sick recently. However, sometimes RA can contribute to a cough; more accurately, a persistent cough is one of the most prevalent complications associated with RA outside of joint issues. This is likely because the inflammation caused by RA may affect the lungs, which can lead to coughing. In fact, some treatment options for RA may also increase the risk of developing a cough. If it persists more than a week, see a doctor.
The effects of extended inflammation on the body will take their toll. In the case of the mouth, RA patients may find themselves experiencing dryness, or discover that they are more susceptible to gum infections. This latter symptom is due to the use of immunosuppressants that are prescribed to treat RA or another automimmune disease known as Sjögren’s syndrome. Not only can dry mouth be caused by these medications, but it may also result from Sjögren’s syndrome, which has been known to co-occur with RA. Sjögren’s syndrome attacks the saliva glands in the mouth, which prevents saliva from lubricating it.
One additional reason those who suffer from RA might be feeling tired is a lack of appetite. Food provides the body with energy, and without it, it’s hard to muster the strength to be active and alert. If you find that you seem less interested in eating, consider other factors. Is there pain and stiffness present? Do you have a higher temperature? While these might point to a cold or fever first and foremost, if they persist for a significant period of time with no improvement, consider the possibility that they may be related to RA, rather than an infection.
As with most painful conditions, RA can cause one to feel exhausted much of the time. Chronic pain is often associated with fatigue. However, it’s a sound idea to keep an eye on your fatigue in relation to your other symptoms. For example, if the pain and stiffness in your joints begin to improve, but you remain exhausted, there could be another cause for the fatigue. Depression is one possibility, but there are others. In addition to regular health checkups, it may be wise to consult with a mental health specialist to see if an underlying cause can be found.
In cases of poorly managed or undiagnosed RA, it is not uncommon for lumps to develop under the skin. Known as rheumatoid nodules, these bumps can be used as an indicator of the severity of the disease; generally, while blood tests can be used to determine the rheumatoid factor, rheumatoid nodules and their locations can provide clues. Normally, they appear near the hands, which is where most RA starts, and they are not uncommon on the elbows. However, rheumatoid nodules can form near any joint affected by RA, and in some unfortunate cases, they may even appear in the eyes.
These are some of the most obvious symptoms of RA. Generally, they occur in the hands primarily, but as mentioned earlier, any joint is fair game. If the pain and stiffness in the joints remain even with treatment, then there could be an underlying complication at work. Infection is one possibility; this is more likely to be the case if the joint is more painful and swollen than usual, particularly when it is touched. Even if you’re already undergoing RA therapy, if you suspect you may have a joint infection, it’s important to talk to your doctor, just in case.