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Swelling in your hands?
You might be wondering if you have arthritis.
While the answer needs a professional medical diagnosis, we can offer some help.
We’ve compiled the most common symptoms of arthritis below.
Of course, we’re not physicians ourselves, and you should see a medical doctor for an official diagnosis.
However, if you’re seeing the symptoms we’ve listed here, it could indicate that you have arthritis.
To really understand arthritis symptoms, we first need to understand how the disease works.
Your hands have a number of small bones and joints that allow you to move, hold items, and do everyday activities like open jars or write.
To do this, the bones inside the joints are protected with cartilage—the kind of tissue in your ears and nose.
Source: Mayo Clinic
To move smoothly, the cartilage is lubricated with an oily substance your joints produce called synovium.
Arthritis is the inflammation of the joints, though the exact reason and cause depend on the type of disease.
There are over 100 types of arthritis, and nearly one in four Americans have the condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The most common cause of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which is caused by wear and tear and appears most frequently in the elderly.
The second most common is rheumatoid arthritis. In this type, the synovium swells, and it usually starts in the small joints of your hands and feet.
Comparing rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis With rheumatoid arthritis, you’re most likely to see symptoms mirrored across your body.
That is, if the joints in your left index finger show symptoms, they’ll usually appear in the right index finger as well.
Fractures and joint injuries can also cause arthritis. Even when treated correctly, injured or dislocated joints are prone to arthritis after recovery.
Now that we understand the basic causes, let’s look at the eight most common symptoms of arthritis in the hands.
The most common and obvious symptom of arthritis is pain and stiffness, usually around the affected joint.
Unfortunately, the pain associated with arthritis might not be easy to pinpoint. The pain can be sharp and burning or a duller sensation.
And it might occur immediately after using the joint or much later.
Source: Matthias Zomer from Pexels
However, if you’re experiencing pain at the location of a joint after using it, such as picking up something heavy, it’s likely a sign of arthritis.
You might also notice that the affected joint feels sore or stiff in the morning and at night.
There are also some reports of people with arthritis saying it hurts worse during rainy weather.
Typically, more usage makes the pain worse, while rest can provide relief.
As the cartilage wears away, the pain can become more intense. If you’re noticing the pain increase, this is a sign that you should see a doctor.
Due to the inflammation around the joint, your body naturally responds with swelling. The swelling is meant to prevent the use and might come with stiffness as well.
If you’re experiencing swelling, you’ll probably notice the joints themselves—or even your whole hand—look inflamed or puffy.
Because swelling can often apply pressure to the delicate nerves around your hand and fingers, you might experience tingling and numbness.
Typically, you’ll notice this around the affected joints.
You might feel a sharp “electrical” twinge in a certain area during movement or less sensation than normal.
Source: Claudia van Zyl on Unsplash
Along with the swelling comes an increase in body temperature.
If you’re noticing that certain joints seem to be warmer than the rest of your body, this could be an indication of arthritis.
Because arthritis may cause the cartilage in your joints to wear away slowly, you might feel or hear friction when you move your joints, a symptom known as crepitation.
A grinding sound or sensation when you bend a joint could indicate that the cartilage is wearing away, and the bones are grinding against each other.
Another related symptom might be looseness in the joint itself.
Source: elCarito on Unsplash
Since the cartilage holds the joint together, less cartilage leaves the joint with empty space, leading to a feeling of looseness.
As arthritis progresses, you may notice changes to the shape of the bone.
A few different factors can cause this. Sometimes, bone spurs develop on the side of the joint.
If arthritis has progressed further, you may notice that the bones forming the joint shift to accommodate the lack of cartilage.
This often causes fingers to bend sharply to the side at the knuckle joints.
Arthritis at the ends of the fingers can lead to small bubbles of fluid called cysts.
These usually show up near or even underneath the fingernail.
One of the most obvious and challenging symptoms of arthritis is reduced mobility and range of motion.
If it’s becoming difficult to do everyday tasks because your joints aren’t able to bend in the ways they used to, arthritis is one of the most likely causes.
An unusual side effect you may also notice is increased mobility in surrounding joints to accommodate this limited range of motion.
Limited mobility in the thumb joint at the base of your wrist, for example, may result in the ability to overextend the next joint to make up for it.
There are several treatment options for arthritis, which we’ll briefly cover.
To diagnose arthritis, your doctor will most likely want to look at an X-ray.
This will allow him or her to see what the joints look like and to determine the level of seriousness of the inflammation.
Source: Cara Shelton on Unsplash
For arthritis that’s only causing mild symptoms, your doctor may encourage treatment at home.
You can take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications.
While these won’t heal the underlying problem, they can help with the pain. Your doctor may also recommend injections.
These contain a steroid and anesthetic that work to help with the pain for weeks or months.
Unfortunately, they’re not a long-term solution due to potential side effects.
Another treatment option is a splint, which helps let the joint rest and heal.
It’s not a permanent solution, however, as overuse of a splint can cause muscles to become weaker.
You can also treat the pain at home with temperature therapy, such as applying ice covered in a cloth or soaking your hands in warm water.
Slowly flexing and relaxing the affected joint can also help.
Finally, there are a few surgical options.
Replacement surgery for the smaller joints in the hand has been developed recently and seems to be effective.
If you’re wondering if you have arthritis, hopefully by now you have an answer.
We haven’t listed every possible symptom that might be due to arthritis, but we’ve included the most common.
And if you’re seeing yourself in those symptoms, it’s time to check with a doctor.
While it might start off with only minor discomfort, arthritis can develop into a more serious condition or permanent damage if left untreated.
Talk with your doctor for an official diagnosis, and follow his or her guidance for proper treatment.
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