How does rheumatoid arthritis affect the wrists and ankles?

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects several body joints. It usually starts by attacking the small joints of the feet wrist and ankles on both sides of the body. In this type of arthritis, the body tissues are attacked by their own immune system which is supposed to protect them from infection instead of damaging the normal cartilage and ligament tissues.

The body joints are covered with a lining known as a synovium which works as a lubricant to the joints to make them easier to move. Rheumatoid arthritis causes this lining to become overactive hence resulting in inflammation and swelling that end up destroying the ligaments as well as the joint and other tissues that support it. When the ligaments are weakened they can cause deformities such as hammer toe or claw toe.

Also, when the bone excessively softens, it can bring forth stress fractures that end up collapsing the bone.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is basically a disease of the bone and joints but it at times ends up affecting tissues throughout the body hence causing damage to the nerves, tendons and blood vessels. RA causes deformities of the wrist and ankles as the first signs of the onset of the disease.

Statistics show that RA affects about 1% of the general population and is more common in women than men with a ratio of 3:1. Signs of RA commonly present between the ages of 40 and 60.

Causes of rheumatoid arthritis

Research has not yet identified the exact cause of RA, however, genetic factors such as family heredity have been seen to play a big role in determining the chances of one developing RA. Also, doctors suspect that some cases are of RA develop as a result of prolonged exposure to certain chemicals that trigger and activate the disease especially to people who inherit RA.

Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis on the wrist and ankles

The severity of RA is well diagnosed after undergoing x-ray imaging procedure as not all patients with arthritis do complain of deformity, loss of motion or pain. Existing joint damage may be aggravated by minor joint injuries that result in symptoms of arthritis that the patient has not experienced before. Most of RA symptoms are caused by pre-existing arthritis and not by the recent minor injuries due to trauma. 

It has been noted that RA symptoms might at times mimic those of osteoarthritis in some way but unlike osteoarthritis, RA symptoms cause more long-lasting stiffness especially during morning times and are characterized by excessive swelling and a deep pale red coloring on the joints.

General symptoms of RA may include:

  • Pain that is only limited to the joint areas of the wrist and ankles. This pain comes and goes and can become worse when performing vigorous exercises like lifting heavy objects. It is also characterized by extended periods of constant discomfort that can last from days to weeks
  • The ankle and wrist joints may experience loss of motion as RA progresses to its next stages. At this stage, you might feel like the pain to the joint is lessened
  • The motion of the joints might be accompanied by some kind of grinding, cracking or clicking signifying the continual wearing down of the cartilage tissues
  • The joints of the ankle and wrist get inflamed, become tender and turn pale reddish. This shows that there is a significant damage to the to the surrounding joint tissues and the body is now responding to the constant irritation
  • Lumps may appear below the skin. These lumps are also referred to as ‘rheumatoid nodules’.
  • General loss of weight
  • On and off sweating that may be accompanied with a low-grade fever
  • Insomnia, weakness, and loss of mobility
  • Depression might occur. 

Diagnosing rheumatic arthritis 

After having presented the above symptoms, your medical history will be studied just before you get a clinical examination to come up with the correct diagnosis. After a blood sample is taken for laboratory analysis, an abnormal antibody known as ‘rheumatoid factor’ is tested. However, the presence of rheumatoid factor in your blood does not necessarily mean that you are suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.

A more specific antibody that has recently been discovered known as ‘anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide’ (anti-ccp) is a more specific indicator of having RA.

A conclusive diagnosis report for RA relies heavily on the judgment and experience of the physician handling you. The doctor will have to compare the test results, an examination was done as well as the symptoms presented.

Prevention and treatment of rheumatoid arthritis

Smoking has been known to increase the chances of one getting RA and so avoiding smoking and exposure to strong industrial chemicals might be the only way to prevent rheumatic arthritis.

Over the past 50 years’ treatment methods for RA have dramatically improved where a combination of safe medications, lifestyle changes, frequent physical exercises and at times surgery may end the patient’s agony. These treatment procedures aim at maintaining the motion ability of the wrist and ankle as well as other body joints. The doctor may also recommend arthritis PT treatment which reduces pain and prevents any kind of damage to the joints in the future.

Having regular medical check-ups is also crucial in combating this disease as early diagnosis is essential so as to start receiving treatment before the problem gets to an advanced stage. If RA is controlled soon after the onset of the symptoms, it may guarantee a good outcome of the treatment as well as ensure that you enjoy a life that is lengthy and of good quality.

The medications prescribed for RA work by relieving the symptoms such as swelling and pain while others work by retarding the advancement of the disease by altering the body’s immune system functioning.

Other more advanced medicines called “biologics” are also available but by injection only. These medicines are more effective but are to be used as a secondary option when the other earlier ones have proved ineffective.

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