Dr. Arthritis Shares: Rheumatoid Arthritis Gets Misdiagnosed All Too Often

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Certain health conditions are very complex. Symptoms tend to overlap with other condition and it’s a fact that this can make diagnosis very, very difficult.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is one of these conditions. The autoimmune disease is notoriously hard to diagnose, which unfortunately comes at the expense of the sufferer’s health and sanity. Symptoms mimic a lot of other illnesses; it can flare and then fade, causing most to dismiss it before it comes back even worse.

Lab tests unfortunately, aren’t a hundred percent accurate. And x-rays will only show signs of the disease when it has progressed significantly.

Why self-treating and medication can be dangerous

Early symptoms of RA tend to be so small it’s easy to ignore. A little numbing here, some tingling there, maybe some random aches and pains.

Most try to manage the condition by trying some form of self-treatment before they seek medical help. This will usually involve taking over-the-counter pain medication, which usually helps provide a bandaid solution to your symptoms.

Understandably, it’s hard to secure an appointment with a doctor especially if your symptoms aren’t too severe. But if you notice that your condition isn’t getting any better, you have to seek help from a trusted physician.

Key symptoms to watch out for

What symptoms should you actually be watching for?

Tingling in your wrist or hands tend to be brushed off as carpal tunnel syndrome, which can also be a symptom of RA, especially when you combine it with other critical signs such as injuries that seem to take too long to heal. If you also notice pain or inflammation in the forefoot, eye problems, and aching joints that tend to happen in pairs. The latter is particularly relevant given that RA symptoms tend to be symmetrical—meaning you will usually experience it on both your hands or feet or knees.  The pain also tends to last longer than common joint pain—usually lasting for over a week.

Other signs include morning stiffness of joints, locking of your knees and elbows, and nodules.

The importance of early diagnosis

Speaking to a medical professional could be helpful in terms of identifying RA early. But as most of you probably have experienced, even your family doctor can find it very hard to pinpoint the cause of your symptoms.

For anyone currently going through the whole process of getting themselves diagnosed, here are some things you can keep in mind to point you and your doctor towards the right direction.

  • If you’re not fully satisfied about your current diagnosis, speak up. Ask if you can do additional tests, or request copies of your results so you can seek a second opinion.
  • Be sure to share accurate and detailed medical history. Don’t leave anything out. You might think a symptom is irrelevant, but it could help clarify your condition.
  • If you notice that even your doctor is having difficulty identifying your condition and you’re showing even the mildest signs of RA, raise the idea of RA yourself and ask for a referral to a rheumatologist.
  • Don’t give up. Your doctors are doing the best that they can for you. But you know your body best. And if you feel like something is off—if prescriptions aren’t working, if your symptoms persist, keep searching for an answer.

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