Early Diagnosis of Arthritis Is Essential

Accurate Diagnosis Leads to Appropriate Treatment

Middle aged man with wrist pain
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When people have early symptoms that may point to arthritis, it can be confusing. Most people experiencing joint pain for the first time do not think they have arthritis. Their first thoughts go towards twisting the joint the wrong way or some benign injury. Typically, people give the pain time to subside on its own, and then they try over-the-counter remedies. They put off making an appointment with their doctor. It cannot be overstated how important it is to consult your doctor sooner rather than later.

First Arthritis Symptoms: When Should You Consult a Doctor?

According to the Arthritis Foundation, "Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any of the following: joint symptoms that last three days or more, or several episodes of joint symptoms within a month." The warning signs of arthritis include: joint pain, stiffness, swelling, difficulty moving a joint through its normal range of motion, redness, and warmth. Signs and symptoms must not be allowed to persist without consulting a doctor.

Self-treating is not recommended for patients with early symptoms until the cause can be confirmed. The reason for this caution is that arthritis may be a symptom of a more serious condition, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, infection or malignancy. An accurate diagnosis paves the way to proper treatment.

Some patients may have more than one condition at the same time, such as rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. In some cases, a diagnosis may not be apparent on an initial evaluation, symptoms may resolve in time, or additional symptoms may develop over time providing more clues for diagnosis.

Treatment Options Once Diagnosis Is Established

Once a diagnosis is established and other related conditions are excluded, self-treatment may be an option. Even so, it is always best to discuss your treatment with your doctor, as patients may experience adverse effects from self-treatment. For example, NSAIDs are available over-the-counter and at a lower strength than is available as a prescription drug. It is known that NSAIDs may increase the risk of bleeding ulcers, cardiovascular, kidney and liver disease. Taking these medications without supervision from your doctor may put you at increased risk of developing a life-threatening adverse event.

It is imperative to begin treatment soon after disease onset for inflammatory types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Without appropriate treatment for inflammatory diseases, permanent joint damage can occur which may be disabling. Extra-articular manifestations can worsen, too.

That is the goal of early diagnosis and early treatment of arthritis — to determine the type of arthritis you have and then to begin a treatment regimen which will effectively slow progression of the disease and prevent permanent joint damage. With rheumatoid arthritis, the approach must be "the earlier the better' for diagnosis and treatment. DMARDs (disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs), which include biologic drugs, are needed with this diagnosis. If DMARDs are delayed, there is the risk of greater joint damage, disability, higher health care costs, and fewer remissions with rheumatoid arthritis.

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