Connect with others who understand.

sign up log in
Resources
About myRAteam
Powered By

Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Updated on July 22, 2022
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.

Learn more about RA rashes.

Watch rheumatologist Dr. Ashira Blazer walk through meditation techniques that can help ease arthritis symptoms.

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.

Learn more about how RA affects the eyes.

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

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
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 is a senior editor at MyHealthTeam and leads the creation of content that educates and empowers people with chronic illnesses. Learn more about her here.

Related articles

Almost all myRAteam members have experienced a rheumatoid arthritis (RA) flare at some point. RA ...

How Long Do RA Flares Typically Last?

Almost all myRAteam members have experienced a rheumatoid arthritis (RA) flare at some point. RA ...
Joint swelling is a common symptom of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease that occur...

RA Shoulder Pain: What It Feels Like and 4 Ways To Find Relief

Joint swelling is a common symptom of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease that occur...
If you experience neck pain as a symptom of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you’re not alone. Although...

Rheumatoid Arthritis in the Neck: 3 Ways To Manage Symptoms

If you experience neck pain as a symptom of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you’re not alone. Although...
If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and experience difficulty remembering, concentrating, or th...

Rheumatoid Arthritis Brain Fog: 7 Tips for Coping

If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and experience difficulty remembering, concentrating, or th...
If you are one of the 1.5 million American adults living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you’ve l...

Can Rheumatoid Arthritis Cause Swan-Neck Deformity in Fingers?

If you are one of the 1.5 million American adults living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you’ve l...
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease. This prevalent type of chronic inflammatory a...

Joint Pain and RA

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease. This prevalent type of chronic inflammatory a...

Recent articles

Many people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) experiment with dietary interventions like following t...

7 Foods To Avoid When on Biologics

Many people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) experiment with dietary interventions like following t...
Ketogenic diets have grown in popularity, both among people wanting to lose excess body weight an...

The Ketogenic Diet and Rheumatoid Arthritis: 5 Things to Know

Ketogenic diets have grown in popularity, both among people wanting to lose excess body weight an...
Discover what those with rheumatoid arthritis shouldn't eat and why. Click here for tips on avoid...

11 Foods and Drinks To Avoid With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Discover what those with rheumatoid arthritis shouldn't eat and why. Click here for tips on avoid...
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved updated boosters for messenger RNA (mRNA...

New COVID-19 Vaccine Boosters for Omicron: What To Know if You Have RA

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved updated boosters for messenger RNA (mRNA...
Maintaining a healthy weight can be difficult if you’re living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). So...

Weight Gain and RA: 9 Ways To Manage Weight and Help Symptoms

Maintaining a healthy weight can be difficult if you’re living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). So...
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes the body’s immune system to attack...

Is Rheumatoid Arthritis More Common in Women?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes the body’s immune system to attack...
myRAteam My rheumatoid arthritis Team

Thank you for subscribing!

Become a member to get even more:

sign up for free

close