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The Effects of Rheumatoid Arthritis on the Hands

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an auto immune disease. The immune system attacks other parts of the body in this case the joints. While RA can affect any joint and sometimes organs as well it is most common in the hands and feet,

An early diagnosis of the disease is essential as with proper care and treatment damage to the joints may be avoided. As the use of your hands is a large factor in your quality of life take the time to see your doctor if you suspect RA is the culprit. X-rays have shown damage to the hands after only two years. Studies have also shown that up to 75% of all joint damage happens in the first five years.

If you have persistent pain in your hands for more than two weeks see you physician. If RA is suspected he or she will refer you to a rheumatologist so treatment can begin.

RA tends to affect the wrists and many of the joints in the hand but not those closest to the fingernails. Interestingly it seems to work in a symmetrical pattern. If the knuckles are inflamed it is likely that the same knuckles on the other hand are inflamed as well. It commonly begins in the smaller joints of the wrist and hands but can spread quite quickly.

Rheumatoid nodules may form and are usually seen at pressure points. They are firm, non tender subcutaneous nodules. John Hopkins has done research and claims that they can cause limited mobility, neuropathy, ulceration, fistula formation and infection. They can be surgically removed but may grow back as quickly as two months following the procedure. Their size may be reduced by intranodular steroid injections.

RA produces swelling of the joints by causing fluid build up by affecting the tissues surrounding the joints. If it is very bad your doctor may drain the liquid and inject a small amount of cortisone into the joint to keep the liquid from reforming.

Deformities of the hand may be caused by RA and can only be corrected by surgery. Boutonniere deformity of the thumb cause the thumb to stand out away from the hand and be curved in appearance. Ulnar deviation of the metacarpophalangeal joints cause the fingers to be positioned towards the pinkie side of the hand. They appear swayed in that direction. It is also possible to lose function of a finger due to a ruptured tendon. The fingers may also develop what is known as the swan deformity. The area between the first and second knuckle will appear curved much like a swan’s neck.

The disease can make everyday tasks virtually impossible to perform. But early treatment can make a difference. While there is no known cure there are ways to control the disease and keep the quality of life. Treatments can range from medication to exercises depending on the person. RA tends to attack people differently so working with your health care professional to determine the best course of treatment is essential.