Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease. With this condition, the body attacks the joints like an intruder. The symptoms of this condition vary from patient to patient, ranging from mild severity to debilitating. RA doesn’t proceed on any specific timeline, but without adequate treatment, it will worsen over time as it moves through specific stages. Thankfully, many treatments are available that provide relief from RA and slow its advance.
Understanding Rheumatoid Arthritis
While the speed at which rheumatoid arthritis advances may vary, it does tend to go through a series of recognizable stages. Depending on how far rheumatoid arthritis has advanced, you may not be aware of the changes that have taken place. This is due to how the body changes as the condition worsens over time.
The stages of rheumatoid arthritis are classed as follows:
- Stage 1 – During this stage, it’s common to experience swelling and joint stiffness that results in pain. Inflammation within the joint is the most common symptom, which can cause them to feel stiff. However, these sensations pass as you move. Many things can account for the symptoms of this stage, so sufferers are often unaware they have it, and doctors may find it challenging to diagnose. When diagnosed and treated within 12 weeks, some treatments can send rheumatoid arthritis into remission.
- Stage 2 – At this point, the inflammation that’s been happening in the synovium can lead to damage to the cartilage and bone. The cartilage is the protective coating found on the ends of the bones in joints. It’s this point that often experiences damage first. When cartilage becomes sufficiently damaged, it can lead to a loss of mobility and considerable pain. This stage can remain challenging to diagnose as it’s possible for no antibodies associated with RA to appear in blood tests.
- Stage 3 – This stage of rheumatoid arthritis is considered severe. The damage has thoroughly damaged the cartilage and has begun to degrade the bone. This degradation is the result of the protective cartilage having been compromised significantly. Pain and swelling are expected, as well as potential loss of mobility and weakness in the muscles.
- Stage 4 – Also known as end-stage rheumatoid arthritis, the inflammation has left the joint. However, the joints have been compromised to the point they no longer function effectively. Mobility loss is standard, as are persistent stiffness, swelling, and pain. The condition of the joints and the limited activity available to the sufferer often impact muscle strength. Loss of function in the hands, hips, and knees can occur.
Due to the potential severity of long-term untreated rheumatoid arthritis, it’s essential to get it treated as soon as possible. If caught early enough, the condition can be put into remission, and the symptoms can usually be eased with varying degrees of success at later stages.
Seek Help For Rheumatoid Arthritis As Soon As Possible
Once rheumatoid arthritis has advanced and damage has occurred, there is no way to reverse it. Rheumatoid arthritis is not curable, so early treatment is the best way to prevent worsening symptoms. If your family has a history of RA or has symptoms that suggest you may be suffering from it, schedule an appointment immediately. Taking action now can provide years of living with fewer symptoms and a sustained quality of life.