Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms: Overview, Symptoms, Natural Treatment
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and rheumatoid arthritis itself are on the rise as are all auto-immune diseases.
Around one percent of the U.S population and at least 2 million of the overall population are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, there are even more “mixed” cases or undiagnosed cases out there putting the total to as many as five million people.
The natural progression for those with rheumatoid arthritis symptoms is such that only less than one percent of people with RA will experience a spontaneous remission.
Individuals can become disabled from this disease with around 50-70 percent of patients experiencing a disability within five years of diagnoses.
Within a decade, half of these individuals have completely stopped working.
This disease has a cost estimate of over $1 billion annually in the U.S. However, new developments, especially ones you have yet to hear of, can certainly help; not just with rheumatoid arthritis symptoms but the progression of the disease itself!
Who gets Rheumatoid Arthritis?
More than 2 million people in the United States are affected by RA with 75 percent being women.
RA is the most commonly diagnosed autoimmune arthritis. Up to 3 percent of women may get RA within their lifetime.
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms can start occurring at any age which is why educating yourself on symptoms, diagnoses and treatment is important, especially if autoimmune diseases run in your family.
What Are the Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?
You may experience one or more of the following symptoms with RA:
Loss of weight
Feeling stiff in the morning for up to several hours
Hands and feet may feel painful in the joints
Your joints may be swollen, warm, and sensitive to the touch
Nodules (firm bumps of tissues) appearing under the skin of arms
The symptoms mentioned above can spread all around your body affecting your hips, shoulders, elbows, ankles, wrists and knees. These symptoms may not be present constantly and can flare up. If you experience any of these rheumatoid arthritis symptoms or signs (what you can see), you need to seek medical care ASAP. It’s all about preventing joint damage.
Tiredness & Fever
The most common symptom of RA is joint pain. However, one of the first rheumatoid arthritis symptoms some patients may experience is a low-grade fever and fatigue upon awakening and even up to six hours afterward. Fever and fatigue can also exist from other health conditions, so a doctor may not suspect R.A. until symptoms of joint pain appear.
Rheumatoid arthritis can cause symptoms of stiffness upon awakening or during other periods of inactivity. This distinguishes it from other types of arthritis.
Rheumatoid nodules are hard, flesh colored, lumps which usually appear under the skin of the arms. The size of these can range. They can also move around or can connect to the tendons. These nodules are usually a symptom of advanced rheumatoid arthritis.
Other Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
RA can damage various organs throughout the body, but this is not common. Below are symptoms that someone may experience with more advanced RA.
Dry Mouth and Eyes
RA is the result, for one thing, of poor immune system functioning. Someone with RA can have their immune system attack their tear ducts and salivary glands, even in the absence of the diagnosis of Sjogren’s Syndrome. The symptoms in response to this may cause:
Difficulty talking or swallowing
Peeling or cracked lips
Eyes, mouth, and throat to feel dry or gritty
Symptoms of eye discomfort can include:
When the membrane around the lungs is inflamed, it will create a tightness or sharp pain in the chest with each breath. This is called Pleurisy.
When RA becomes advanced, it can cause severe damage to the joints. An affected individual may find their hands and fingers are bending at unnatural angles, appearing twisted and gnarled. This deformity can interfere with regular movement. Other joints may become damaged as well such as wrists, elbows, ankles, and knees.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosis
When a physician suspects a patient may be affected by RA, they will usually refer them to a Rheumatologist (a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of “rheumatoid diseases”).
In the early stages of RA, a patient may show signs of other types of inflammatory arthritis.
A proper diagnosis can be made by a rheumatologist to review any previous medical and family medical history, perform an exam, and do other diagnostic testing.
A physician will review your family and personal medical history, current condition, and several other factors to determine your condition.
During the physical exam, the physician will review each joint for any swelling, pain, tenderness, limited movement, or warmth. RA can also be indicated by the pattern and number of joints that are affected as it tends to happen on both sides of the body. This exam may also reveal a low-grade fever or rheumatoid nodules.
Criteria for Classification of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Arthritis in joints of hands– There is at least one swollen joint area above the wrist, PIP, or MCP joint. (Joints which are mid-fingers and/or upper fingers).
Stiffness– In the morning someone is experiencing stiffness of joints that lasts an hour or more.
Arthritis in more than three joint areas– There are 14 joints that can be affected: wrist, elbow, knee, ankle, MTP joints, MCP, and right or left PIP joints. MTP, MCP and PIP joints are the small joints in the hands or feet.
Serum Rheumatoid Factor– This test is only positive around 30-40 percent of the time during early diagnosis of RA.
Symmetric arthritis– Simultaneous symptoms in the same joint locations on both sides of your body is the norm. Lack of symmetry, however, is not sufficient enough to rule out RA.
Rheumatoid Nodules– Only around 25 percent of individuals with RA develop nodules, and this usually happens later on.
X-ray changes consistent with RA.
The symptoms listed above must be present for at least six weeks to understand and classify if rheumatoid arthritis is developing. However, the criteria listed was meant to classify it and not to diagnose. A physician must make the diagnosis.
Your Hands Are the KEY to the Diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis
If you start to notice hand and wrist involvement, that is usually one of the first signs of rheumatoid arthritis. The wrist joints, proximal interphalangeal, and metacarpophalangeal joints are the first areas of symptoms. RA typically affects the joints that are closest to your wrists compared to osteoarthritis which affects the joints closest to your fingertips.
It is common to experience fatigue before symptoms of joint issues begin as well as morning stiffness. The cause of stiffness may be from increased fluid around your joints.
X-ray: Radiological changes can appear on hand and wrist X-rays that will show erosions or unequivocal bony decalcification found in or around the most involved joints for RA.
A general initial laboratory evaluation should include: ESR, SMA-complete, U/A, CBC, ASO titer, and 25-hydroxy vitamin D level.
Rheumatoid Factor and ANA titers are drawn and are generally used to gauge improvement with therapy.
Vitamin D testing should frequently be done until your 25-hydroxy D level reaches between 65 and 80 ng/ml.
There is a strong correlation between Vitamin D levels and RA severity. Make sure your doctor is doing this and keeping your level high enough (not common enough from my experience). I like to keep my patients over 50 ng/ml.
A small percentage of patients diagnosed with RA may have a “microcytic anemia” which appears similar to iron deficiency, but is not. This can be due to inflammation in the RA that impairs optimal bone marrow utilization of iron.
This type of anemia does not respond to iron. In fact, you will get worse if you are put on it because excess iron will cause oxidative stress which worsens all diseases.
Usually, the most reliable indicator of the total amount of iron in the body is through ferritin levels. However, it will be elevated anytime the ESR (“sed rate” is up as it is also an acute phase reactant protein. Patients with RA should not use a ferritin as it is an unreliable test. Instead, a serum Iron and Iron Binding Capacity test should be utilized.
Regular treatment options that are prescribed or recommended for rheumatoid arthritis include disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), biologic DMARDs like tumor necrosis factor (TNF) medicines, and corticosteroid injections or medications.
Conventional drugs must all be used with caution and in my opinion, are often avoidable. I’ll discuss alternatives in a moment.
Examples of DMARDs include the commonly used methotrexate. Prednisone is the most commonly used steroid. “Non-steroidals” are numerous and fairly well known starting with the OTC drugs Ibuprofen and Aleve.
In my opinion, using prescription drugs should be a last resort for treatment. There are natural remedies that patients with RA can use without the harmful side effects. LDN (low-dose naltrexone) is one that can relieve pain and get patients to refrain from taking conventional medicine. This option is controversial but might work. (Not enough for me to opine but enough to throw it out there.)
Let me, however, give you my opinion about steroids. They have tons of awful side effects. Natural bioidentical hormones are always best including BI hydrocortisone for RA, and your doctor can prescribe this. It works and is far far less toxic. In fact, it’s NOT toxic.
Newer Drugs for Rheumatoid Arthritis All Have Similar Risks
A new class of rheumatoid arthritis drugs are “biologic” drugs named TNF-alpha inhibitors. These sell under the product names Remicade, Humira, and Enbrel. These drugs are advertised heavily, even with their safety being in question. After a recent safety analysis of these three drugs, results show the risk of death is possible if you take them. There are also potential and very serious side effects of these three drugs that include cancer and infection. So, let’s talk about what you can do to alleviate rheumatoid arthritis symptoms naturally.
First, Review your diet, supplement and exercise regimen
Following these general guidelines alone will go a long way to help your symptoms:
Eat mostly raw food as it is the most anti-inflammatory food.
Eat only high quality, unprocessed, locally grown, and organic foods when possible.
Use highly potent fermented vegetables to help balance your GI microbiome. (Note: More to follow on how important this is for rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.)
Try moderate to light intensity exercise that is approved by your physician. To avoid any physical decline, it is important to get regular exercise when you are diagnosed with RA. However, damage can easily happen to inflamed joints if exercises are not performed correctly. Furthermore, to be cautious, it is necessary to take extra time for rest as well.
Avoid any activities that can cause joint pain. Before doing any exercise, RA patients need to consult with their doctor first to avoid any future joint deformities or injuries. Exercises that can be performed include:
Stretching, Yoga, or Tai Chi
Light weight or strength training
If joints are feeling stiff, try stretching and applying heat before exercise.
Swollen and or red joints can benefit by applying ice for 10 minutes before exercising.
High-quality omega-3 fats.
Vitamin D. We can associate the development of RA with a deficiency in Vitamin D.
It is now malpractice for a physician to treat a patient with RA and not monitor their vitamin D levels to confirm they are in a therapeutic range around 50-70 ng/ml at a minimal level and many literature sources cite 65-80 ng/dL.
Those with RA, like everyone else, need a combo pre-probiotic daily or twice daily capsule. Why both? (Everyone asks me this!) Because prebiotics are phages which wipe out the toxic bad bacteria suppressing immune systems and doing much more “bad” stuff.
So, without the prebiotics, the probiotics CANNOT set up shop, that’s why. Many significant studies reveal a pre-pro treatment for RA patients relieves symptoms and lowers ESR’s! RA patients need this 2x/day.
Supplements for inflammation and oxidative stress, as we have on our website, help everyone. However, studies DO indeed show a big YES for RA patients in terms of diminution of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis as well as the subsequent deformities.
Increasing muscle mass around joints with supplements such as acetyl l carnitine and bcaa/glutamine powder to augment weight training will help pad inflamed joints to relieve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms of pain and stiffness too.
Smoking can hinder any progress/improvement with care of your RA and should be stopped ASAP, please!
Other treatments will be found on a future article detailing the functional medicine approach to all auto-immune diseases.
Natural Pain and Inflammation Relief
Curcumin (turmeric): Studies show curcumin, found in turmeric, is effective in treating acute and chronic pain. This one shown is the most potent you can get ANYWHERE.
Curcumin is notable for its anti-inflammatory properties. Studies show curcumin blocks inflammatory pathways linked to rheumatoid arthritis. Turmeric for pain and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms has been studied rather extensively.
Curcumin comes form the spice Turmeric. It works as well (in clinical studies) as non-steroidal drugs and prednisone!
Astaxanthin (a carotenoid vitamin) can reduce pain linked to inflammation.
One study shows RA patients experience an improvement of 35 percent in pain levels, as well as an improvement of 40 percent to perform daily activities after receiving astaxanthin for around eight weeks. (Again, this is a carotenoid available in our reds/greens drink and our multi).
The diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis does not mean toxic drugs, disability or any of the horror stories “out there.” I actually have two patients who came to me on Humira and high dose prednisone. Now, they are both simply on the supplements above, medical grade arthritis food products I carry, and on bioidentical hydrocortisone in a reasonable dose. As a result, they are both doing great! Be sure, you can too! Please note that auto-immune diseases are now all thought to begin with leaky gut and subsequent food sensitivities with bio-mimicry causing the body to attack itself. This is an important part of treatment for R.A> and other auto-immune disorders.