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About Early Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common type of early arthritis. It is a chronic inflammatory arthritis that affects the small joints of the hands and feet. Sometimes it affects other parts of the body. If the inflammation is not treated optimally or in a timely manner, it can lead to destruction of the joints.

Rheumatoid arthritis is about 3-4 times more common in women than in men and most often begins between the ages of 40 and 60 years old. It is an autoimmune disease, which means that for some unknown reason the body identifies some cells in the body as foreign and results in inflammation of joints and sometimes other parts of the body.

Some common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are:

  • Joint pain: Typically in the small joints of the hands, wrists, ankles and feet
  • Joint swelling: Same areas as joint pain
  • Morning stiffness: Lasting more than one hour
  • Fatigue

Is this Clinic for You?

Make an appointment with your primary care provider if you are having symptoms like these for more than 3-4 weeks, especially if the things you are doing at home do not make them better. Based on his or her evaluation, your primary care provider may order some blood tests. If he or she suspects you have developed rheumatoid arthritis, they will contact our office to make an appointment in the Early Arthritis Clinic. If your symptoms have been going on for more than 3 months, your health care provider will refer you to one of our other clinics instead where you will still be seen by a rheumatologist. A rheumatologist is a doctor who specializes in the treatment of arthritis and autoimmune diseases.

What to Expect

On the day of your appointment: Please arrive 15-20 minutes prior to your scheduled time. This will give you ample time to complete all the necessary paper work prior to being seen by your rheumatologist. Your physician will interview and examine you and discuss the likelihood that you have rheumatoid arthritis or other inflammatory arthritis. It is important to note that it can be difficult to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis in its early stages. Also, several other forms of joint and muscle diseases may mimic rheumatoid arthritis when they first manifest.

Tests: Based on the information available to your rheumatologist and his or her suspicion for an inflammatory arthritis, you may be asked to do some blood work and/or x-rays. A positive rheumatoid factor (RF), anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP) are often suggestive for rheumatoid arthritis. Additionally, blood tests may show an elevated sedimentation rate (ESR) and /or C-reactive protein (CRP) indicating the presence of an inflammatory process. X-rays are often done of hands and feet as joint damage often occurs initially in these joints. If your rheumatologist feels the need for further imaging studies, he or she may request or perform an ultrasound examination of your joints.

Questionnaires: You may be asked to fill out questionnaires to help the rheumatologist determine the extent of disease and to help follow the extent of your arthritis over the next several visit. These questionnaires may provide important information about the appropriate medications for you.

Follow up appointment: This will be scheduled at a time interval that will be determined by your Rheumatologist based on his/her evaluation.

Research opportunities: You may also be provided information on ongoing clinical trials within the Division of Allergy, Immunology, and Rheumatology.