There are several symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, including headaches.
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis refers to condition of joint inflammation and stiffness, generally worsening with age. Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are the most common types. In osteoarthritis, the cartilage at the joint breaks down. In rheumatoid arthritis, the joint lining is attacked.1 It is an autoimmune disorder, not a “wear-and-tear” problem as with osteoarthritis. Swelling, joint deformity, and bone erosion typically result from rheumatoid arthritis, usually in the hands and feet. Sometimes, other organs can be affected, such as the blood vessels, lungs, eyes, and skin. Women, and those over 40, are more likely to get rheumatoid arthritis.2
Some patients are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), when they have injuries that are slow to heal, such as a sprained ankle. Tingling and numbness in the hands, as a result of carpal tunnel syndrome, can be another sign of RA. These symptoms may worsen at night. Forefoot inflammation might be another symptom of RA. Heel pain, or plantar fasciitis, might also develop. Sjogrens syndrome, a condition that is also autoimmune, causes dryness in the skin, eyes, mouth, nose, and throat. It, too, may be an early RA sign. Fatigue and joint achiness, often misdiagnosed as chronic fatigue syndrome, might also indicate RA. Rheumatoid arthritis pain can be “symmetrical…both hands, feet, knees, or ankles will be affected”. Morning stiffness, while also a sign of osteoarthritis, tends to persist throughout the day in patients with RA. Some RA patients may experience locked joints, generally in the elbows and knees due to the swelling. Another rheumatoid arthritis symptom is nodules, which are “firm lumps that grow under the skin near the affected joints”, found in the eyes or backs of elbows.3 RA is also associated with headaches; in fact, “61 percent of people with severe headaches or migraines also have chronic pain conditions, including RA.” This may be due to arthritis affecting the cervical spine (neck area).4
One of the problems of patients with RA who have headaches is that they might seek over-the-counter NSAID pills, acetaminophen, or aspirin. If they are also taking a prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, this can lead to harmful side effects that damage organs. Patients should speak with their healthcare professionals about treating the headaches in other ways. Certain triggers, like cigarette smoke, might be the culprit. Stress, dehydration, and lack of sleep may also contribute to the pain. Additionally, headaches may be a side effect of RA medication or indicate of a new neck or shoulder symptom.5 Very often, the treatment of RA pain, including headaches, is non-surgical. Medications, diet, exercise, and complementary care can provide relief.6
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