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Early Arthritis – Symptoms and EffectsArticle by Daniel Westhead
While Arthritis is often considered a problem as we age, it can occur in younger people too. Known as early onset Arthritis, it leads to the same mobility issues and ongoing pain. For elderly sufferers, spotting symptoms early can be a real help, but early arthritis diagnosis does rely on noticing problems and seeking medical help.
We are more likely to ignore smaller issues though, and in early-onset arthritis, or any kind, this can cause significant issue in the long term. Early diagnosis and treatment can help reduce the deterioration and improve quality of life.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Onset Age
When dealing with all kinds of arthritis, those who develop the symptoms before a typical patient will have what is described as early onset arthritis. The age that is considered ‘early onset’ depends on the type of arthritis. For rheumatoid arthritis the age for onset to be considered early is below 30. For osteoarthritis, early onset is considered as anyone below age 50, as another example.
Early arthritis diagnosis remains quite rare, with around 7% of all arthritis patients being diagnosed with early-onset arthritis. However, while it may be relatively rare, rheumatoid arthritis early diagnosis can affect anyone, even younger children. The cause of such early onset arthritis vary, but in young children often relates to autoimmune conditions rather than the wear and tear on joints that are often the underlying cause of arthritis in older adults and senior citizens.
Early rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis
While early arthritis is unusual, it does not differ from the more common arthritis found in older adults. The symptoms are the same in all cases, and knowing those symptoms is important for having treatment solutions in place where they can be most effective. Because those who suffer from early arthritis must live with the problem for longer, often much longer, identifying the issue as soon as possible can be extremely beneficial.
For rheumatoid arthritis, there are a number of symptoms to look out for, and to understand them it is important to know what they are, and what the disease is.
What is rheumatoid arthritis (RA)?
Early rheumatoid arthritis, like all instances of the disease, is an autoimmune and anti-inflammatory disease. It causes the body’s immune system to attack healthy cells, causing symptoms that develop slowly over time, or manifest very quickly depending on the patient. Rheumatoid arthritis normally appears in patients aged between 30 and 50 years old, with any diagnosis below 30 years of age considered early onset arthritis.
It normally occurs in one of two ways:
- Joint pain becomes acute quickly over the course of one or two days. This is known as explosive polyarticular onset.
- Joint pain through swelling occurs in a specific joint, lasts for a few days then disappears, only to reappear in another joint a week or two later. This is known as palindromic presentation.
Because it is driven by the immune system mistakenly attacking healthy cells, RA affects joint linings, causing swelling that leads to pain, and eventually bone erosion and even deformed joints. It tends to begin in smaller joints, such as in the fingers and toes, but later spreads to larger ones such as wrists, knees, ankles and so on.
Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis early onset
In general, you can expect symptoms to manifest over time, following the palindromic model, with the polyarticular onset being much rarer. In either case, early signs include:
- Joint stiffness in one or more areas
- Pain when you move
- Tenderness in the joint, and possibly some visible swelling
- Pain spreading across multiple joints over time
Other symptoms can begin to affect the body over time, not specific to joints. This includes:
- Excessive fatigue
- Malaise – when you feel ill or ‘out of sorts’ without there being something specific you can point to.
- A persistent but mild fever
You won’t necessarily see all of these issues simultaneously, but if you do find yourself with joint issues and then begin feeling tired, for instance, it is definitely worth consulting your doctor. The symptoms will usually continue to worsen over time, with more joints affected and further impact on your general health.
The cause of RA remains unknown, but researchers believe it is a combination of hormones, genetics and lifestyle or environmental factors.
Diagnosing early onset RA
If you do feel like you have symptoms that correspond to early rheumatoid arthritis, consulting your doctor is essential. They can provide a more formal diagnosis through both blood tests and imaging. Within the blood test, the doctor will look for inflammation and a number of blood proteins that can indicate the disease.
Imaging includes X-Ray, ultrasound and MRI scans, and can show inflammation within joints, including the tell-tale bone erosion that it causes.
Looking for rheumatoid nodules early stages
Aside from blood tests and scans, RA also has a very significant identifier. As the problem impacts joints, firm lumps can appear under the skin at those joints. These nodules tend not to be painful, but can become infected in some cases.
They tend to be most common around the finger joints, and if they begin to appear this is a good sign that you have an issue. However, if you have other symptoms but no nodules, remember that only 20% of RA sufferers develop nodules at all, so the absence of them does not mean no early onset arthritis. If you find yourself with the physical pain and other symptoms, it is important to see a doctor.
Early-stage thumb arthritis test
For other early onset arthritis similar tests are conducted, but for osteoarthritis, which commonly begins in the hands, there is a specific thumb test. Here the medical professional will hold the base of the thumb and move it in all directions. They are listening for a grinding sound, or if the patient complains of pain during the movement, either of which could suggest early arthritis. This is a common way to identify stage 1 early arthritis in hands, and is a quick and reliable way for doctors to see where to focus their attention.
Dealing with early-onset arthritis
No matter which type of early arthritis is involved, there are no cures for the disease. That doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do though, but it is a case of managing the issue rather than eradicating it.
A better diet and weight loss can have an impact, lessening the strain on joints can ease symptoms and the pain they cause. Adopting a healthier lifestyle in general can help in a variety of ways. For instance, smokers are more likely to develop rheumatoid nodules than non-smokers.
With no complete cure for the disease though, the importance of identifying early onset arthritis is that you can make changes quickly, and take action before joints are too damaged. Joint replacement can help with specific situations, but if left to deteriorate too far become unsuitable for such surgery. Early diagnosis means every option is available for treating the problem.
If you do find yourself suffering from joint pain, don’t dismiss the problem. If it persists, and you find yourself with any of the ancillary symptoms such as fatigue, talk to your doctor as quickly as possible. In this way, you can have the very best management of the issue you can, lessening the impact of the disease on your daily life.
Our range of personal alarms can help your elderly loved ones suffering from arthritis feel supported and live more independently for longer. Contact our professional, friendly team today on 0800 112 3201, request a callback or use our Live Chat.