The Pain, Swelling And Stiffness of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Arthritis Symptoms: More Than Just Joint Pain
Swollen joints, joint pain — these are just a couple of the arthritis symptoms that should prompt you to see your doctor.
By Madeline R. Vann, MPH
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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If you’ve been dealing with symptoms that you think could be arthritis, call your doctor to evaluate them — this is your first step in reducing the long-term effects of arthritis.
So what symptoms should prompt an office visit? Joint pain, for one. Other symptoms are swelling in the joints and limited movement, says Geeta Nayyar, MD, assistant clinical professor of medicine at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. “The common thing that people say is, ‘It hurts when I walk up stairs.’” You may also find yourself describing your joint, whether it is in your finger, knee, or elsewhere, as feeling “like a creaky door,” Dr. Nayyar says.
Most people associate arthritis with joint pain, but the exact type and details of the pain are important clues to what type of arthritis you have. Osteoarthritis, for example, usually involves “pain in the joints that comes with activity,” says Nayyar. When you stop the painful activity, the pain usually decreases or goes away. In contrast, other conditions may be characterized by pain or stiffness in the morning that go away as you get moving. Rheumatoid arthritis may also be accompanied by fevers or rashes.
Why an Arthritis Diagnosis Is Crucial
Regardless of what type of arthritis you may have, ignoring joint pain simply invites further damage that can occur over time. A delay in arthritis diagnosis and treatment means less opportunity to protect your joints through physical therapy and changes in your lifestyle.
Ignoring arthritis warning signs is a problem often seen in younger patients who may think that arthritis only affects older people, says Nayyar, and so they ignore their symptoms as the disease progresses. The fact is there are various types of arthritis, and young adults — even teenagers and children — can have the condition.
Your doctor will want to know details about your pain. To prepare for your office visit, take note of:
- What you are doing when you feel the pain
- What makes it feel better
- Whether there is or has been any redness or swelling
- Possible causes of the pain, such as a recent injury
- The kind of pain — burning, sharp, achy?
- If you are restricted by how much you can move the affected joint
- Which joints are involved
- If the pain moves around
What Goes Into Getting an Arthritis Diagnosis?
Here’s what you can expect during a medical evaluation:
- Medical history.Your doctor will ask about your health history, other health concerns you have, health behaviors (such as the kind of exercise you do), previous surgeries or injuries, and more. Bring a list of all medications and supplements that you take regularly.
- Family history.Your doctor will want to know about any health conditions that have been diagnosed in other family members.
- Description of symptoms.You’ll be asked to detail the pain and discomfort you are experiencing.
- Physical exam.Your doctor will want to see and possibly touch the joints that are affected. She may also ask you to move the joint in certain ways to find out how well the joint is working.
- Joint aspiration.If your joint is swollen, your doctor may want to take a sample of the fluid in your joint to analyze it for the presence of crystals or infection.
- X-rays.These images can help your doctor see whether joints have been damaged or deteriorated.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).This is a different type of imaging test that can show whether there is damage to the soft tissue around your joint.
The process of getting a diagnosis feels a lot like detective work. Nayyar acknowledges that, with arthritis, this is often the case. But cracking the case early can help get you on the right road to treatment and management.
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