Rheumatoid arthritis: Seven symptoms that represent the 'earliest phases' of arthritis


Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition, which means it’s caused by the immune system attacking healthy body tissue. The symptoms can be debilitating but spotting it early can help you seek targeted interventions that forestall the worst effects. “The rapid identification of patients with rheumatoid arthritis is vital,” researchers in a review noted.

They continue: “Irreversible joint damage can occur during the early stages of disease, and the first three months following symptom onset represent a critical therapeutic window during which time drug treatment is particularly effective at controlling synovitis and limiting long-term joint damage.”

Synovitis (or synovial inflammation) is when the synovium – the connective tissue that lines the inside of the joint – becomes inflamed (swollen).

Considering the importance of early identification, the researchers sought to review the current literature on early symptoms.

They systematically reviewed published qualitative research exploring patients’ experiences of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis at the onset of their disease.

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“Our synthesis of these data highlights what is already known about this area,” the wrote.

What did the researchers find out?

The systematic review of the qualitative literature identified what is currently known about the symptoms, and patterns of symptoms, that “characterise the earliest phases of rheumatoid arthritis (RA)”.

According to the researchers, the literature singed out the following symptoms:

  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Tenderness
  • Stiffness
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • The emotional impact of symptoms.

Importantly, the review also highlighted the major deficiencies in the current literature and that additional qualitative research focused on exploring the nature of symptoms in the earliest phases of rheumatoid arthritis is needed.

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How to respond to symptoms

“See a GP if you think you have symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, so they can try to identify the underlying cause,”advises the NHS.

As the health body explains, diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis quickly is important, because early treatment can prevent it getting worse and reduce the risk of joint damage.

“A GP will do a physical examination, checking your joints for any swelling and to assess how easily they move. The GP will also ask you about your symptoms.”

How to alleviate arthritis

Overhauling unhealthy aspects of your lifestyle can relieve the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

Regular exercise and a healthy diet are recommended for everyone, not just people with rheumatoid arthritis.

But these approaches can provide direct benefits for managing arthritis.

Research shows getting the right amount of that vitamin aids in preventing inflammatory arthritis and maintaining healthy joints.

“For starters, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts and beans but low processed foods and saturated fat, is not only great for overall health, but can also help manage disease activity,” explains Arthritis Foundation (AF).

If this advice sounds familiar, it’s because these are the principles of the Mediterranean diet, which is frequently touted for its anti-aging and disease-fighting powers.

The Mediterranean diet varies by country and region, so it has a range of definitions.

But in general, it’s high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil. It usually includes a low intake of meat and dairy foods.

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Studies confirm that eating foods commonly part of the Mediterranean diet help arthritis by curbing inflammation.





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