Arthritis: Unusual sleeping patterns? Two lesser-known early symptoms found in your sleep

Rheumatoid Arthritis: NHS on common signs and symptoms

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Arthritis is one of the most common long-term medical conditions in the UK, with more than 10 million people affected. Many would be surprised to know a few early symptoms of the condition can be found in the way you sleep.

New research looking at 8 studies examining the medical records of nearly 38,000 patients confirmed what doctors have suspected for a while now: as many as a third of all people diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) may also have obstructive sleep apnoea.

The most common shared symptom of both obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) and RA is daytime sleepiness and feelings of fatigue while awake. 

Being told you snore could also be an early symptom for both sleep apnoea or arthritis.  

Millions of people throughout the world report a battle with sleep.

But the chances of having sleep problems are significantly greater among those with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

The disease is synonymous with widespread inflammation that leads to stiffness, swelling, and joint pain.

Nearly 57 percent of people with RA in one recent study reported experiencing insomnia.

Sleep apnoea is when your breathing stops and starts while you sleep with the most common type being OSA.

In one 2016 study published in the journal BMJ Open; the incidence rate of sleep apnoea was 75 percent greater in people with RA than in those without the disease.

Another study confirmed a close association between temporomandibular joints abnormality (TMJA) and OSA.

It found that people with moderate-to-severe sleep apnoea had a higher level of TMJA, and conversely, people with RA and TMJA tend to have more severe sleep apnoea.

Inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis likely also plays a role in this process.

RA increases certain proinflammatory cytokines, such as tumour necrosis factor (TNF), and these intercellular signalling proteins are involved in the process of normal sleep regulation, said Dr Regina Taylor-Fievre, a researchers on inflammatory arthritis and sleep disorders at the University of Saskatchewan.

She added: “Higher TNF levels have also been reported in sleep apnoea.”

She further explained, as per a review article published in the International Journal of Clinical Rheumatology, that someone who has RA, it could be that this increase in TNF levels may increase susceptibility to OSA.

According to Arthritis Health, eight unusual symptoms of the condition may include:

  • Hearing problems
  • Snoring
  • Skin rash
  • Trouble breathing, chronic cough, or chest pains
  • Sudden, temporary numbness in the fingers or toes
  • Gum disease
  • Increased fat-to-lean mass ratio
  • Red eyes.

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