As rheumatoid arthritis (RA) progresses, it can take quite a toll on your quality of life. Joint pain, stiffness, and inflammation worsen, and, in turn, make the normal activities of everyday life — walking around your house, taking a shower, getting dressed in the morning — a lot more challenging. While that might come as no surprise to someone who has been living with RA for a while, a new study suggests that many RA patients struggle to perform daily activities one to two years before getting diagnosed.
According to the study, which was recently published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, so-called “functional disability” often occurs well before someone learns that they have RA. “This is a new finding and a finding that is quite intriguing,” lead author Elena Myasoedova, MD, PhD, told ScienceDaily. “It may reflect an accumulation of symptoms between the time of first onset and the time required for providers to actually diagnose patients.”
This kind of delay is problematic for a few reasons. Not only does it mean that people are experiencing debilitating symptoms during this pre-diagnosis period, but they may also be missing out on the opportunity to start treatment early in the disease process. If you have RA, starting a disease-modifying drug antirheumatic drug (DMARD) as soon as possible is usually the best way to achieve remission and avoid permanent joint damage and disability.
To conduct this study, researchers analyzed data from the Rochester Epidemiology Project which contained medical records and questionnaires from 586 RA patients and 531 healthy people. Not surprisingly, the authors found that people with RA had higher rates of functional disability compared to those without the condition. But they also reported that rates of functional disability were elevated in the one- to two-year period that pre-dated their official RA diagnosis.
Early RA symptoms often include joint pain, but unexplained fatigue and low-grade fevers are also common. Of course, many other conditions may cause similar symptoms, so it’s important to see a doctor so you can sort it out. If it does turn out to be RA, speeding up the diagnosis and starting treatment sooner should make it less likely that you’ll develop long-lasting damage and disability.
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