Connect with others who understand.

sign up log in
About myRAteam

Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Posted on August 01, 2018
Medically reviewed by
Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A.
Article written by
Kelly Crumrin

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects each person a little differently. Symptoms depend on the severity of the condition and can appear or disappear at any time. Symptoms worsen during exacerbations (called flares) and may subside during periods of remission. RA is a progressive disease, meaning joint damage tends to worsen over time. Joint damage caused by RA cannot be reversed.

Although most people think of RA as a disease of the joints, it is actually a systemic disease that can cause inflammation in many parts of the body. Treatment can effectively manage many RA symptoms and slow progression.

Joint Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

RA typically impacts the joints symmetrically — affecting the same joint on both sides of the body. Joints commonly affected include the hands, feet, wrists, elbows, ankles, and knees. Joints are often swollen, stiff, warm, reddened, and painful. Left untreated, RA can cause joint damage that may lead to deformity and disability. Stiffness can be more intense in the morning or after a period of inactivity. Baker’s cysts — painless swellings also called popliteal cysts — may form behind the knees.

Skin Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

RA can cause skin rashes, ulcers, and the development of rheumatoid nodules — firm lumps under the skin.

Eye Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

As a systemic disease that impacts the whole body, RA can cause episcleritis, scleritis, conjunctivitis, and uveitis. These types of eye inflammation can involve pain, redness, vision changes, and light sensitivity. Left untreated, scleritis and uveitis can progress and lead to loss of vision.

General Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Fatigue is a very common symptom of rheumatoid arthritis due to high levels of inflammation in the body. Rheumatoid arthritis can also be associated with anemia, or low red blood cell count, which can contribute to fatigue. RA can also cause abnormal bleeding. Depression and anxiety are common for people with RA, as they are for people living with any chronic disease. Some people with RA experience weight loss.

Complications of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis can promote inflammation anywhere in the body, leading to problems such as vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels), which can cause life-threatening organ damage. Pericarditis, or inflammation of the membrane surrounding the heart, is another potential complication of RA that can cause chest pain. RA can also cause inflammation of the lungs resulting in chest pain, cough, and shortness of breath.

People with RA are more likely to develop heart disease, diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), and high cholesterol, particularly if they are obese. Lifestyle changes such as losing weight, stopping smoking, and eating a balanced diet can help counteract the risk.

At What Age Do Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms Appear?

In the majority of cases, rheumatoid arthritis is diagnosed in people between ages 30 and 60. However, a juvenile form of RA may develop in children under age 17.

Do Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms Go Away?

Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms may appear during a flare and diminish during a remission period. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic condition that does not currently have a cure. In most people, symptoms can be effectively treated with medication and lifestyle changes.

What Does Rheumatoid Arthritis Look Like?

Rheumatoid arthritis can show up as swollen or disfigured joints, such as toes that curl up (clawed toes) or that twist and overlap with one another, or fingers that twist and point outward.

Condition Guide

References

  1. What is Rheumatoid Arthritis? — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  2. Rheumatoid Arthritis — Arthritis Foundation
  3. Rheumatoid Arthritis — Mayo Clinic
  4. Rheumatoid Arthritis Complications — NHS
Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A. is the clinical associate professor of medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Kelly Crumrin leads the creation of content that educates and empowers people with chronic illnesses. Learn more about her here.

A myRAteam Member said:

Hi I’ve been having bilateral top of feet and ankle pain plus swelling for nearly 4 years now! I’ve had X-rays which reveal bone degeneration however,… read more

posted 10 days ago

hug (1)

Recent articles

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease, meaning the body attacks its tissues, leading...

Understanding Vitamin D Levels and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease, meaning the body attacks its tissues, leading...
Many individuals with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) look for natural ways to help manage their...

Supplements for RA: What To Take and What To Avoid

Many individuals with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) look for natural ways to help manage their...
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a type of inflammatory arthritis known for causing joint symptoms,...

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Peripheral Neuropathy

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a type of inflammatory arthritis known for causing joint symptoms,...
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) tends to affect small joints first, particularly the joints of the...

Hand Exercises for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) tends to affect small joints first, particularly the joints of the...
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory autoimmune disease that leads to joint inflammation,...

Rheumatoid Arthritis Stages and Progression

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory autoimmune disease that leads to joint inflammation,...
It’s normal enough to wake up achy the day after a difficult workout or a long day of work. But...

Rheumatoid Arthritis: Managing Morning Stiffness

It’s normal enough to wake up achy the day after a difficult workout or a long day of work. But...
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disorder affecting the joints. Antirheumatic...

Stem Cell Therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis: What We Know

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disorder affecting the joints. Antirheumatic...
Baker’s cysts (also known as Baker cysts or popliteal cysts) are very common in people with...

Managing Baker's Cysts in Rheumatoid Arthritis

Baker’s cysts (also known as Baker cysts or popliteal cysts) are very common in people with...
Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (RA), also known as juvenile idiopathic arthritis or JIA, is a...

Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis: Symptoms and Treatment

Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (RA), also known as juvenile idiopathic arthritis or JIA, is a...
Recent research in rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory disease, shows that what you eat may...

Best Foods for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Recent research in rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory disease, shows that what you eat may...
myRAteam My rheumatoid arthritis Team

Two Ways to Get Started with myRAteam

Become a Member

Connect with others who are living with rheumatoid arthritis. Get members only access to emotional support, advice, treatment insights, and more.

sign up

Become a Subscriber

Get the latest articles about rheumatoid arthritis sent to your inbox.

Not now, thanks

Privacy policy
myRAteam My rheumatoid arthritis Team

Thank you for signing up.

close