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Hand and finger rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis of the hand and fingers causes swelling, stiffness, joint damage and deformity.

Other symptoms of hand and finger rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Hand joints and finger joints that are warm and tender to the touch.
  • The same joints affected symmetrically (both wrists, fingers on both hands).
  • Finger joints that "creak" when moved, called crepitus.
  • Deformities in finger joints, particularly the middle joint.
  • Carpal tunnel symptoms such as numbness and tingling of the hands.
  • More inflammation, pain, and stiffness that affect other symmetrical joints such as both sides of the jaw, both sides of the neck, shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, ankles and feet.
  • Flu-like feeling.
  • Fatigue that is not easily resolved.
  • Fever.
  • Pain and stiffness that last for more than an hour after getting up in the morning.

 

What causes hand and finger rheumatoid arthritis?

Scientists are unsure about the causes of hand and finger rheumatoid arthritis. The NHS estimates that over 580,000 people in England and Wales are affected by rheumatoid arthritis. It occurs in all ethnic groups and about two to three times as many women suffer from rheumatoid arthritis as men. Some rheumatoid arthritis research points to the following factors as possibly influencing rheumatoid arthritis:

  • Genetic factors.
  • Environmental factors such as a viral or bacterial infection.
  • Hormones, rheumatoid arthritis tends tends to improve with pregnancy, while breastfeeding and the postpartum period (the time after delivery) may aggravate rheumatoid symptoms.

What is a swan-neck deformity?

Rheumatoid arthritis is a common cause of a swan-neck deformity. It's estimated that about 50% of those with RA have this deformity.

With a swan-neck deformity, the base of the finger and the outermost joint bend, while the middle joint straightens. Over time, this imbalance of the finger joints can result in the crooked swan-neck position. True swan-neck deformity does not occur in the thumb.

A swan-neck deformity can make it almost impossible to bend the affected finger normally. It can make it difficult to button shirts, grip a glass or pinch with the fingers.

By examining the hand and fingers, a rheumatologist can diagnose a swan-neck deformity and determine appropriate treatment, which may include:

  • Finger splints or ring splints.
  • Surgery to realign the joints or fuse the joints for better function.

What is a boutonniere deformity?

Boutonniere deformity, also called buttonhole deformity, can occur as a result of rheumatoid arthritis.

With a boutonniere deformity, the middle finger joint will bend toward the palm while the outer finger joint may bend opposite the palm. This deformity may be the result of chronic inflammation of the finger's middle joint.

Treatment for boutonniere deformity may include splinting to keep the middle joint extended. Surgery may be needed.

What's the treatment for hand and finger rheumatoid arthritis?

Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis is a multifaceted regimen that includes:

  • Medications.
  • Rest and exercise.
  • Splints and special arthritis aids that help take pressure off painful joints.
  • Self-managing stress.
  • Dietary changes, such as eliminating foods that may trigger inflammation and including foods that may help decrease inflammation, such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D and flax oil.
  • Regular medical checkups.
  • Physiotherapy
  • Surgery to help restore function.
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