Rheumatoid Arthritis

Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

The main symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are joint pain, swelling and stiffness. However, more general symptoms and inflammation in other parts of the body may also occur. Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms often develop gradually over several weeks, but in some cases the disease can progress quickly within a few days. Symptoms vary from person to person. They may come and go or change over time. Rheumatic flare-ups may occur as your condition worsens and your symptoms increase.

Symptoms Affecting the Joints

Rheumatoid arthritis mainly affects the joints. It can cause problems in any joint of the body, although the small joints in the hands and feet are often affected first. Rheumatoid arthritis usually affects the joints symmetrically (on both sides of the body at the same time and to the same extent), but this is not always the case.

Joint Pain

Joint pain is common and usually occurs in the hands, feet, hips, knees, or spine. The pain may be constant or come and go. Sometimes the joint feels stiff, may be painful, or aches. Some patients complain of a burning, throbbing, or “grating” sensation. Also, the joint may feel stiff in the morning, but with movement and activity, it loosens up and gets better. Too much activity, however, may make the pain worse.

Joint pain can affect the function of your joint and limit your ability to perform basic tasks. Severe joint pain can affect your quality of life. Treatment should focus not only on your pain, but also, on your activities and functions affected.


Joints affected by rheumatoid arthritis may feel stiff. For example, if your hands are affected, you may not be able to fully flex your fingers or make a fist. As with joint pain, stiffness is often worse in the morning or after a period of inactivity. Morning stiffness, which is, after all, also a symptom of osteoarthritis (but which usually subsides within 30 minutes of getting up), often lasts longer with rheumatoid arthritis.

Swelling, Warmth and Redness

The joints affected by rheumatoid arthritis become inflamed, which can cause the joints to swell and feel hot and painful. Some patients may also develop firm swellings, called rheumatoid nodules, under the skin around the affected joints.

Additional Symptoms

In addition to joint symptoms, some people with rheumatoid arthritis have more general symptoms, such as:

  • fatigue and lack of energy,
  • high fever,
  • sweating,
  • loss of appetite,
  • weight loss.

The inflammation that is part of rheumatoid arthritis can sometimes cause problems in other areas of the body, such as:

  • dry eyes – when the eyes are affected and
  • chest pain – if the heart or lungs are affected.


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