Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms

Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms range from obvious physical symptoms of joint deterioration to less obvious symptoms that mimic other illnesses. This is what makes rheumatoid arthritis difficult to diagnose, especially in early stages.

Common Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms

Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are the result of an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation of joint tissue. Symptoms can range from mild to debilitating and every level in between.

There are some common overall symptoms to be aware of should you suspect that you or someone you know is suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Below are the most commonly reported rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

Joint Pain & Tenderness

Typically joint pain is felt during times when the disease is active. The inflammation can irritate the joint and cause pain. Pain can also be felt when the disease isn’t active because of past damage that has been done to the joint.

Joints may also feel tender to the touch. This is because the inflammation in the joint tissue has affected the nerves within the joint capsule. Any pressure can elicit immediate pain, even from compression during sleep.

Joint Swelling

Joint swelling is caused by the inflammation in the joint capsule. The swelling can range from limited to very noticeable. When joints become swollen it can reduce mobility and range of motion. If swelling affects the hands, it becomes difficult to remove or put on rings.

Joint Redness & Warmth

When joints are swollen it can produce an isolated area of redness on the skin. This is because the skin’s capillaries widen due to the inflammation within the joint capsule. When joints have become inflamed, it is possible to feel warmth on the joint even if no redness is occurring.

Joint Stiffness & Loss of Range of Motion

Stiffness occurs when the disease is in an active state of inflammation. Often stiffness will occur in the mornings but can proceed throughout the day as well. Stiffness, as well as overall joint swelling, can result in the loss of range of motion. In some cases, range of motion can be permanently lost in certain joints.

Joint Deformity

When severe damage has occurred to the joint capsule’s cartilage and bones, the entire joint can become deformed. This is usually the result of chronic rheumatoid arthritis that has gone undetected and untreated.

The above symptoms are those that are physically experienced directly with the joints themselves. However, each symptom can manifest itself in different ways, throughout different parts of the body, and during different periods of time. There are also some more general symptoms which can often be mistaken for other conditions. We cover these below including early warning signs.

What Areas of the Body are Affected?

Symptoms of joint inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis can occur throughout several areas of the body and within multiple joints. The main areas affected by joint inflammation are:

  • Hands (fingers and knuckles)
  • Wrists
  • Elbows
  • Shoulders
  • Hips
  • Knees
  • Ankles
  • Toes

Symptoms can occur in one centered location or they can be felt in multiple areas. When symptoms occur in more than four different joints throughout the body, it is called polyarthritis.

Symmetrical Symptoms

It is very common for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers to feel symmetrical symptoms. This means that if pain is felt on the left side of the body, then it will also be felt on the right side. The symptoms may progress at different rates on each side but are still felt on both sides.

Each person may experience a different level of pain and discomfort on either side of their body at varying times during the day.

Early Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms

In the early stages of rheumatoid arthritis, it is common to feel certain symptoms of pain and stiffness. These can be experienced on a case-by-case basis and don’t always occur all at once.

  • Pain and tenderness in joints for a minimum of six consecutive weeks
  • Ongoing stiffness in the joints and loss of range of motion
  • Stiffness each morning lasting a minimum of 30 minutes and up to several hours
  • Pain and soreness in multiple joints
  • Symmetrical pain experienced on both sides of the body
  • Pain and soreness in small joints like knuckles and toes

Early Warning Sings

In conjunction with the early symptoms, there are some serious warning signs that may indicate you are developing rheumatoid arthritis. These warning signs can include:

  • Sports injuries that don’t heal properly (even after arthrosporic surgeries)
  • Ongoing numbness and tingling in hands
  • Swollen forefoot often preventing women from wearing high heels
  • Pain in the heel and bottom tissue of the foot
  • Locked joints that are unable to bend such as the knees and elbows
  • Fatigue, depression or overall feelings of ill health lasting weeks or months

Progressive Symptoms

Beyond the typical early signs and symptoms, other more advanced symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis could include chronic fatigue, loss of appetite, and low-grade fever.

With advanced rheumatoid arthritis, many people will develop nodules. These are noticeable firm lumps developing under the skin near the affected joints. Often times the nodules will appear on the hands and the back of the elbows. Some sufferers even develop nodules in their eyes.

In some cases, if the disease has affected the ankles and knees, rheumatoid arthritis sufferers may find that they will begin to develop a limp in an attempt to eliminate pressure from their sore joints.

Flare-Ups and Remission

Arthritis symptoms may come and go in some cases. Increased sensitivity due to inflammation is called a flare-up, which can be followed by the remission of symptoms. Flare-ups can last varying amounts of time for each person.

Severe rheumatoid arthritis symptoms are most often felt during a flare-up. Flare-ups can also have different characteristics of pain and discomfort for different people. Often times, rheumatoid arthritis patients don’t know exactly what causes their flare-ups, although physical activity is a common trigger.

When inflammation subsides, this is known as the remission state. Though the inflammation is limited, pain and stiffness can still often be felt due to the level of damage that’s already been done to the joint.

Other Symptoms

Rheumatoid arthritis can cause less obvious or indefinite symptoms alongside the common physical joint symptoms. Often times, rheumatoid arthritis sufferers will report symptoms that could be mistaken for other illnesses or conditions.

In the early stages of rheumatoid arthritis and beyond it is common to experience fibromyalgia-like symptoms. But the difference is that rheumatoid arthritis causes inflammation and fibromyalgia does not.

Here are some of the other, mistakable symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis:

  • Sjogren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that causes eye dryness and pain as well as sensitivity to light and impaired vision. It can also cause mouth dryness and gum infections.
  • Lung inflammation that causes shortness of breath.
  • Blood vessel inflammation that causes damage to the nerves and organs including skin.
  • Low red blood cell counts, a condition known as anemia.

Of course, on their own, these symptoms could all be the result of any number of different illnesses. This is why it is important to be aware of rheumatoid arthritis and all its potential symptoms to ensure proper diagnosis as early as possible.