Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Tests For Rheumatoid Arthritis

Submitted on March 27, 2012

Rheumatoid Arthritis can be described as a chronic inflammatory disorder, affecting mainly the small joints that are present in your hands and feet. This condition is an autoimmune disorder, which occurs when your immune system mistakenly starts attacking the healthy tissues in your body. The disease has a negative impact on the lining of your joints, because of which you may experience severe pain and swelling. You may not be able to carry out your daily activities properly, because of the stiffness, pain and swelling in your fingers or the other joints. The degree to which this disease affects your life depends entirely on how well you can cope with its symptoms. Apart from discomfort in the joints, you may also experience fatigue and fever because of rheumatoid arthritis. Over a period of time, rheumatoid arthritis can also lead to joint deformity and bone erosion.

Although anyone can suffer from this disease, it is a lot more noticed in those who are in the age groups of 40 years and 60. It has also been seen that women are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, as compared to men. There are a few factors that can increase your risk of developing this condition, such as family history of this condition, or unhealthy practices like smoking.

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for this condition. However, this form of arthritis can be managed to a great extent, by following the right treatment options. It is important for you to remember that you will need to undergo treatment for this condition probably on a life-long basis.

Tests Recommended

Diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis in the early stages can be a challenge, because the signs and symptoms are quite similar to those experienced in case of other diseases too. In case you notice swelling and pain in the joints, or any of the other symptoms of this condition, it is important for you to consult your doctor right away. Do not be surprised if your doctor asks you to consult a rheumatologist, mainly, a doctor specializing in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. In all probability, you will need to go through certain rheumatoid arthritis tests for an accurate diagnosis.

The first part of the rheumatoid arthritis tests will probably be a physical exam, followed by other imaging and lab tests. Your doctor will ask you to go through X-Rays, MRIs, CT scans and ultrasounds, in order to track the progression of the condition in the joints, over a period of time.

In order to check arthritis blood tests are also very helpful, as they enable your doctor to determine the type of arthritis you could be suffering from. Some of the medical tests that are conducted as a part of the full blood count include:

  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) to determine the degree of inflammation present in the body
  • C-reactive protein (CRP) to check the amount of inflammation that is present in the body
  • Rheumatoid factor and anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP) tests, to measure some antibodies in the blood

There are no special preparations of most of the rheumatoid arthritis tests, but it is best to consult a doctor in advance for any dos and don'ts that need to be followed.


Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition that occurs when the immune system of the body attacks the body tissues in error. It is the synovium or the lining of the membranes surrounding your joints that is under attack. This results in an inflammation that thickens the synovium. Eventually, the cartilage and the bone in the joint could get destroyed. The ligaments and the tendons that hold the joint together also stretch and become weaker. Due to this, the joint loses its alignment and appears twisted, or out of shape. Health experts are still not sure why exactly this happens to a person, but they do believe that a combination of different factors can lead to this condition. Given below are some of the possible rheumatoid arthritis causes:

Immune Response and Inflammatory Process

The inflammatory process can be described as a byproduct of the immune system activity, which combats infections and heals any injuries or wounds. The immune system has two important components known as B cells and T cells. It has been seen that the B cells and T cells become overactive in patients who have rheumatoid arthritis.

Genetic Factors

Several people have developed rheumatoid arthritis because of heredity or genetic factors. The main genetic marker that has been associated with this disease is Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA). In several cases, genetic factors do not lead to the condition; instead, they cause it to worsen once it develops

Environmental Factors

At times, an individual could develop rheumatoid arthritis because of bacterial or viral infections. Some of the probable triggers include the Epstein Barr Virus (EBV), retroviruses, mycoplasma, mycobacteria and parvovirus B19.

There is an ongoing search conducted by researchers all over the world, to determine the exact rheumatoid arthritis causes.


There are several different uncomfortable signs and symptoms that you may experience in case you are suffering from this disease. It has been seen that the symptoms of this condition vary. This means that not everyone who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis will have the same signs and symptoms. Given below are some of the most common rheumatoid arthritis symptoms:

  • Swelling and pain in the affected joints
  • Redness and puffiness in the hands
  • Loss of appetite, usually accompanied by weight loss
  • Tenderness mainly in the specific joints that are affected
  • Appearance of rheumatoid nodules, or firm bumps of tissue, under the skin
  • Severe fatigue and weakness
  • Stiffness that starts mainly in the morning and goes on for many hours
  • Fever
  • Fluid Buildup
  • Anemia (in some cases)
  • Difficulty in sleeping

At first, the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis seem to affect the small joints present in the hands, feet, wrists and ankles. However, as the disease progresses, you may also notice that your elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, neck and jaw also seem to be affected. Most of the times, the symptoms are symmetrical, which indicates that they occur in the same joints on both sides of the body.

Do not be surprised if the severity of the symptoms changes often. At times, the symptoms may be absent for months together, which is known as the remission period. However, you may also suffer from 'flare-ups', where the symptoms seem worse than before.

In case you have persistent pain and discomfort in your joints, or if you have noticed symmetrical swelling in multiple joints, it would be absolutely essential that you consult your doctor at the earliest.


Unfortunately, there is no cure for this condition as yet, but rheumatoid arthritis treatment is aimed at controlling the uncomfortable symptoms and improving the quality of the patient's life.

Your health care provider can prescribe medication to prevent and delay joint damage. At first, most doctors prescribe medications with the least side effects. However, as the condition progresses and becomes more severe, you may need to take stronger drugs or perhaps even a combination of different medications, which include:

  • NSAIDs
  • Corticosteroids
  • Disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
  • Immuno-suppressants
  • TNF alpha inhibitors

Your doctor may also advise you to go in for physical and occupational therapy, to help you protect your joints from further rapid damage. Complementary therapies like heat therapy, cold therapy, deep breathing, hypnosis and muscle relaxation therapy can also be quite useful in controlling the symptoms. In case the damage to the joint is severe, your doctor may advise you to go in for one of these surgeries:

  • Arthroplasty or total joint replacement surgery
  • Tendon repair surgery
  • Synovectomy or a surgery to remove the joint lining
  • Arthrodesis or joint infusion surgery

Supportive treatments like various therapies, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation and therapeutic ultrasound could also alleviate rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, enabling you to perform daily activities more effectively. It is essential to make sure that this condition is closely monitored by a doctor at all times.