10 Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis You Need to Know

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RA joint diagram
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the lining of the joints, causing pain, stiffness, and in some cases, even deformity.

It differs from osteoarthritis, which is caused by wear and tear of the cartilage that connects the bones. While there are similarities between the two types, an accurate diagnosis is important to ensure appropriate treatment.

Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis may occur at any age—including childhood. The disease may progress over months or years. Although RA can affect anyone, it occurs more often in women.

Medications and other treatment options are available, so if you think you might be suffering from RA, discuss your symptoms with a doctor to get a diagnosis. In the meantime, you can review these symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis to see if you have any of them.

Do You Have These Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?

1. Stiff Joints

You are most likely to feel stiffness in your joints first thing in the morning. If you have osteoarthritis, it is liable to go away in less than an hour. However, RA causes stiffness that can last for hours.

2. Joint Pain or Tenderness

While any form of arthritis can affect any joint in the body, pain and tenderness in your hands and feet might indicate RA. During the early stages of the disease, you are likely to notice pain in the joints between your fingers and your hands, and between your toes and your feet.

3. Symmetrical Joint Pain

Osteoarthritis usually affects just one joint, such as one knee or one ankle. But if you have pain, stiffness or swelling on both sides, such as your right and left ankles, you might have rheumatoid arthritis. Additionally, RA pain can move to different joints at any time. Osteoarthritis pain generally occurs in the same joint over a long period of time.

4. Swollen, Red or Warm Joints

Inflammation within your joints often causes them to become noticeably puffy and take on a slightly pink hue. Joints that are warm to the touch are another symptom of rheumatoid arthritis.

5. Symptoms That Last

Pain, stiffness and swelling come and go whether you have arthritis or not, but ongoing problems that last for weeks, months or years often point to RA.

6. Nodules Under Your Skin

If you have small bumps under the skin on your arms, especially around your elbows, you might have RA. Rheumatoid nodules might also be painful.

7. Fatigue

Feeling unusually tired can have many causes, but it can also be a symptom of rheumatoid arthritis.

8. Unexplained Weight Loss or Diminished Appetite

Like fatigue, weight loss alone does not mean you have RA, but if you’ve experienced a lackluster appetite or your jeans are starting to feel baggy, take note. Letting your doctor know about weight loss or appetite changes, along with other symptoms, can help lead to an accurate diagnosis.

9. Dryness and Pain in Your Eyes or Mouth

When your mouth or eyes are dry, it may be caused by a high level of inflammation over an extended period.

10. Anemia

While a low level of red blood cells can have many causes, it is also a common symptom of rheumatoid arthritis.

The Challenge of Diagnosing Rheumatoid Arthritis

RA is often difficult to diagnose. No single can diagnose RA, and the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can mimic those of other conditions. It is also possible for symptoms such as joint pain to take months or even years to develop fully, and they might disappear for a period only to return later. A primary care physician or rheumatologist—a doctor who specializes in problems affecting bones, joints and muscles—can perform lab tests and X-rays, along with a physical examination, to determine whether you have RA.

The Doctor Knows Best

It’s important to remember that like most diseases, RA affects each person differently. However, if you have the most common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis—ongoing joint pain and stiffness affecting both sides of the body, symptoms that last several hours each morning, and nodules under the skin around the elbows—discuss them with your doctor to get an accurate diagnosis and form a treatment plan.