Ask Dr. Susan Lee Does My Pain Mean I Have RA?

Q: I'm 24 years old, and I'm concerned that I have signs of RA. Recently, my hands ache with so much pain. Actually, I hurt everywhere — I have unexplained backaches and leg pains too. I have been suffering from headaches and dizziness for a while now, but it is only recently that these new symptoms have appeared. Do you have any suggestions?
Dr. Susan J. Lee, MD - Rheumatoid Arthritis A:  Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine the cause of your pain without a proper medical history and examination. In general, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects women in their thirties and becomes apparent with pain and swelling in their hands, wrists, and feet. The pain is often associated with morning stiffness lasting more than 20 minutes. Although in severe cases RA can affect the back, in general it affects smaller joints first.
It would be hard to attribute your headaches and dizziness to RA unless you have long-standing RA that has resulted in bone deformities of your cervical spine (the neck area). From your description, your symptoms may be related to a condition called fibromyalgia, which can result in diffuse pain in both big and small joints and in the muscles around the affected joints. It can also be associated with various nonspecific symptoms, including but not limited to headaches, fatigue, insomnia, and dizziness. If your pain persists, I recommend that you see a rheumatologist to rule out any underlying autoimmune conditions, or your family physician, who can direct you to the appropriate specialist.

Last Updated: 05/07/2009
Rheumatoid arthritis expert Dr. Susan Lee is a rheumatologist at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine, in the Division of Rheumatology, Allergy, and Immunology.

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