Connect with others who understand.

sign up log in
About myRAteam

Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Updated on February 02, 2020

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 (also 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 uveitis (eye inflammation) that involves pain, redness, vision changes, and light sensitivity. Left untreated, uveitis can progress and lead to loss of vision.

General symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis

Fatigue is a very common symptom of RA 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 in RA, as in all chronic diseases. Some people with RA experience weight loss.

Complications of rheumatoid arthritis

RA 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.

Resources

External resources

myRAteam Resources

Kelly leads the creation of content that educates and empowers people with chronic illnesses. Learn more about her here.

A myRAteam Member said:

This is an almost perfect explanation of RA. Can this be made sharable? Wish my family would understand it's not just sore joints

posted 8 days ago

hug (3)

Recent articles

Ra and covid 19 are you at a greater risk
Article written by Christine Sprunger Medically reviewed by Siddharth Tambar, MDThe past several...

Rheumatoid Arthritis and COVID-19: Are You At a Greater Risk?

Article written by Christine Sprunger Medically reviewed by Siddharth Tambar, MDThe past several...
Coronavirus
Article written by Kelly Crumrin Those of us living with pre-existing, chronic conditions such as...

Canceling Is Kindness: Keeping Safe From COVID-19 With RA

Article written by Kelly Crumrin Those of us living with pre-existing, chronic conditions such as...
Ra header
We recently asked 374 members of myRAteam about their relationship and satisfaction with the...

The Results Are In: People Living With Rheumatoid Arthritis Are More Satisfied With Their Doctors When They Feel Heard and Understood

We recently asked 374 members of myRAteam about their relationship and satisfaction with the...
Setting intentions for 2020 with rheumatoid arthritis %28ra%29
Eat healthier. Exercise more. Learn a new skill. Pay off a credit card. Many of us have made...

Setting Intentions for 2020 With Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

Eat healthier. Exercise more. Learn a new skill. Pay off a credit card. Many of us have made...
Pins and needles sensations with rheumatoid arthritis
If you’ve ever felt like needles were poking your hands, arms, feet, or legs, you’re not alone....

Pins-and-Needles Sensations With Rheumatoid Arthritis

If you’ve ever felt like needles were poking your hands, arms, feet, or legs, you’re not alone....
Practicing gratitude with rheumatoid arthritis
This time of the year can be overwhelming with expectations around the holidays, and living with...

Practicing Gratitude With Rheumatoid Arthritis

This time of the year can be overwhelming with expectations around the holidays, and living with...
Applying for disability benefits with rheumatoid arthritis %28ra%29
Excruciating pain and other rheumatoid arthritis (RA) symptoms can make full-time or part-time...

Applying for Disability When You Have RA

Excruciating pain and other rheumatoid arthritis (RA) symptoms can make full-time or part-time...
Improving sleep with ra
When you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), getting a good night’s sleep can be challenging....

Improving Sleep with RA

When you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), getting a good night’s sleep can be challenging....
Rheumatoid arthritis and itching
Are you experiencing persistent and painful itching with rheumatoid arthritis (RA)? You’re not...

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Itching

Are you experiencing persistent and painful itching with rheumatoid arthritis (RA)? You’re not...
Ra and heel pain
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) often causes pain in the ball of the foot, but it can also affect the...

RA and Heel Pain

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) often causes pain in the ball of the foot, but it can also affect the...
myRAteam My rheumatoid arthritis Team

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