Pictures of Rheumatoid Arthritis
What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune condition that causes chronic inflammation. This type of arthritis is not caused by injury or repetitive movement. People with RA experience painful swelling of the joints. As the disease progresses, joints can become severely deformed.
The most obvious signs are in the hands and feet. Imaging tests like X-ray, computed tomography (CT) scan, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) help doctors assess the severity of joint damage.
RA can also affect other parts of the body, including skin, blood vessels, eyes, and lungs. People with RA may also battle fatigue and general weakness.
One of the distinguishing features of RA can be observed in the hands. Swelling of the knuckle joints and wrists leads to severe pain and stiffness, especially in the morning. Chronic inflammation can cause the fingers to twist in an outward direction, taking a toll on fine motor skills. In advanced cases of RA, the hands can become disfigured and interfere with quality of life.
Ankle and Heel
RA can also affect the ankle and heel. Chronic inflammation causes the bones to shift so the ankle and back of the foot are out of alignment. If the ankle and heel can’t move properly, it can be difficult to walk, especially on uneven surfaces, hills, and stairs. Inflammation of the ankle and heel cause pain on the outside of the foot.
Middle of the Foot
As the ligaments and cartilage of the foot continue to deteriorate, the arch of the foot can collapse. With flat foot, the shape of the entire foot begins to shift. Some people with RA develop large, bony bumps, corns, or calluses on the ball of the foot. These can be painful and make it very difficult to find comfortable footwear. Special shoe inserts can improve the arch.
Front of the Foot
When the arch falls, it puts pressure on the toes and the front of the foot starts to point outward. Toes become twisted and may cross over each other, especially the big toe. Many people with RA develop bunions, calluses, or claw toes. The sheer number of problems from the ankle to the toes causes pain throughout the foot. Over time, a person with RA may be inclined to avoid standing or walking.
Severe damage can cause the toes to take the shape of claws. The small toes take on a prominent appearance as they bend upward and then point downward at the middle joints. Sometimes, toes curl under the foot. Added pressure on the toes can cause skin ulcers and calluses. In time, claw toes can become rigid and unable to flex inside a shoe. Claw toe is a progressive condition and, without treatment, can become be permanently deforming.
When your big toe bends toward the second toe, it causes a bump to form on the joint at the base of the big toe. This is known as a bunion. Because the foot must carry the body’s weight when you walk, bunions can be very painful. A bunion can also form on the outside of the little toe. This is called a “bunionette” or “tailor’s bunion.” The misshapen area in front of the foot makes it difficult to find shoes that are wide enough at the front.
RA can also attack the joints of the knees, causing obvious inflammation. Imaging tests like X-rays and MRI can clearly show the extent of the damage. Typically, there’s a loss of joint space due to damaged cartilage and an outgrowth of bone (bone spurs, or osteophytes). In advanced cases, bones can grow together and fuse.
Some people with RA, particularly those with more severe disease, form rheumatoid nodules. These are small, firm lumps that develop under the skin, usually near joints that are inflamed. The nodules can be small, or as large as a walnut. No treatment is required. Certain medications can help reduce the size of larger nodules that are bothersome. In some cases, they can be surgically removed. Usually, the nodules are painless and pose no risk.
Beyond the Joints
While joints are the most obvious sign of RA, it is truly a multisystem disease that can cause inflammation in other parts of the body, too. Other signs of RA include inflammation of the eye (scleritis) and gum disease. RA can affect the lungs, heart, liver, and kidneys. These complications are more likely in very advanced cases of RA. There is no cure for RA, but medication, assistive devices, surgery, and other treatments can ease symptoms and improve quality of life.
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