Have you wondered about Rheumatoid Arthritis? Here are some questions and answers that will help you understand more. If after browsing this website you still have questions, please contact us and we will do our best to answer them for you.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)?

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is:

  • a type of inflammatory arthritis (i.e. it causes joint inflammation)
  • a long-term illness (also called chronic)
  • an autoimmune disease, meaning the body's immune system attacks its own body. This also means that more than just joints may be affected, such as the lungs, heart, or eyes (but thankfully that is rare)
  • often experienced as pain, swelling, and inflammation in joints all over the body. It usually starts slowly in   a few joints, and within months and weeks, can spread to other parts of the body. When pain, swelling, and soreness increase, it is called a "flare"
  • often experienced in the same joints on both sides of the body. It will often start on one side, e.g. pain, swelling, and inflammation in one knee, followed by the same in the other knee
  • experienced very differently by different people. While one person may feel minor pain, another may experience much stronger pain in various joints.
  • not curable at present, but is can be very well managed through early diagnosis, treatment, and collaboration with your healthcare team.

How can I recognize the symptoms for Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Here is a list of signs and symptoms that people with rheumatoid arthritis often have:

  • Pain and stiffness that starts in your joints. You should note unusual or newly discovered pain. Are your knees getting more and more stiff? Are your knuckles hurting more than usual? Can you feel your joints aching when the weather changes?
  • Pain and stiffness that are more noticeable in the mornings. Soreness can last around 30-60 minutes before it starts to go away. Sometimes it simply feels like your joints need to be 'warmed up' before you can use them
  • Extreme tiredness (it's hard just to get through your normal daily activities), minor fevers (feeling like you are constantly coming down with something) and weight loss (without trying)
  • If your feet are affected, your shoes may be tighter or even not fitting like they were previously.

If my family doctor thinks I have Rheumatoid Arthritis, what happens next?

It is important for you to understand that early arthritis treatment is very beneficial. If you feel that your symptoms might be Rheumatoid Arthritis, it is important for you to see a rheumatologist (a doctor who specializes in arthritis), which often happens by a referral from your family doctor. Make sure to communicate to your family doctor your exact signs and symptoms. Once you are referred to a rheumatologist, they will be able to identify if you have Rheumatoid Arthritis and best treat you if you do.

What tests will I undergo to diagnose Rheumatoid Arthritis?

There are a variety of tests that doctors use to help them detect Rheumatoid Arthritis. If you have Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms, you may be asked to take blood tests and go for x-rays. Three blood tests that you might undergo are:

1) Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR) - This is the rate per hour that red blood cells take to fall and which is used to measure inflammation (during inflammation, red blood cells 'stack together' and fall faster);

2) C-Reactive Protein (CRP) - This test measures a protein that is found in the blood (i.e. C-Reactive Protein) to determine a person's level of inflammation; and

3) Rheumatoid Factor (RF) - This test measures a protein in the blood (i.e. Rheumatoid Factor) that is used to show Rheumatoid Arthritis, and which is often, but not always, seen in patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis. The longer you wait to be diagnosed and the longer you wait for treatment, the greater chance you will be positive for Rheumatoid Factor.

Why is early arthritis treatment so important?

Rheumatoid Arthritis can have many negative effects. Joint inflammation will cause pain, swelling and soreness which often feel like a burning sensation. This burning sensation can cause permanent and irreparable damage to joints meaning that it cannot be fixed, even with today's medicine.

You can think of Rheumatoid Arthritis as a fire that must be put out before permanent damage occurs. Your nearest fire department is your rheumatologist who has various methods to help you decrease your pain and suffering which also, in turn limits joint damage that you may experience.

While there is no cure for RA, rheumatologists have studied and worked hard to find ways to help people live well with RA. It is important to treat and control RA, and early treatment will help alleviate disease flares (i.e. times of increased disease activity which make you feel worse) and significantly reduce damage.

How can I manage Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Many people with Rheumatoid Arthritis live very productive lives with it. There are many treatment options and more is known about Rheumatoid Arthritis than ever before. Your healthcare team will help you manage your Rheumatoid Arthritis, most likely with a combination of the following:

  • Medications: Disease Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs (DMARDs, which include biologic medications), Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Therapy supports
  • Daily lifestyle adjustments: carrying lighter objects, positioning joints for proper alignment, avoiding positions of excess stress, enlarged grips
  • Exercises: range of motion, strengthening, endurance, moderate stretching
  • Applying heat and cold to relax aching joints and reduce pain
  • Proper diet
  • Stress management
  • Surgery: There are different surgeries depending on the severity of Rheumatoid Arthritis, from minor procedures to major joint reconstruction. The benefits are reduced pain and improved mobility.