If you feel aching pain, stiffness and swelling in your joints over several weeks or longer, it may be a sign of rheumatoid arthritis. Along with this inflammation in the joints, you may also feel tired, feverish and not as hungry as usual. These issues often develop over the course of several weeks or months, but in some cases progress more quickly.
Rheumatoid arthritis manifests differently from person to person. Symptoms can arise and then go away, and they may even change over time. “Flares” of rheumatoid arthritis occur when the condition is active and your symptoms worsen.
You may have rheumatoid arthritis if you feel any of the following:
- Pain, swelling, stiffness or tenderness in your joints lasting six weeks or longer
- Morning joint stiffness lasting 30 minutes or longer
- There is more than one joint affected
- Onset of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms in small joints, namely those in the wrists and some hand and feet joints
- Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms on both sides of the body in the same joints
Rheumatoid arthritis affects your joints first and foremost. While it can affect joints throughout your body, it often strikes your hand and feet joints first. Rheumatoid arthritis usually works symmetrically; in other words, it typically affects both sides of your body concurrently and equally.
Rheumatoid arthritis joint pain typically feels like aching and throbbing. In many cases, it is worse in the morning and after you’ve been sedentary for a while.
Stiffness is also common with rheumatoid arthritis. For instance, if you have rheumatoid arthritis in your hands or feet, it may be difficult to bend your fingers or toes. Morning stiffness can be a challenge, and it may be hard to get going with your day. With rheumatoid arthritis, morning joint stiffness typically lasts longer than 30 minutes. For this reason, the duration of morning joint stiffness is an effective means to measure the condition’s inflammatory activity. Morning stiffness lasting 30 minutes or less may point to a different form of arthritis called osteoarthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis doesn’t just affect the joints. Some people with the condition experience general symptoms as well, including:
- Fatigue and low energy
- Low-grade fever (99°F to 100°F)
- Changes in hunger and eating patterns
- Weight loss
Fatigue, depression and a general ill feeling can often precede other symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis by a period of weeks or even months and indicate ongoing rheumatoid arthritis activity. These issues may come and go throughout the day or may change from day to day. A rheumatoid arthritis flare may be a constellation of these general symptoms or include the telltale signs of rheumatoid arthritis, like joint stiffness and pain. The inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis can lead to issues in other parts of your body as well. These may include dry eye, in cases where the eyes are affected, or chest pain, in cases where the lungs or heart are affected.a
- U.K. National Health Service (NHS). Symptoms: Rheumatoid Arthritis. August 28, 2019. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/rheumatoid-arthritis/symptoms/#:~:text=Joints%20affected%20by%20rheumatoid%20arthritis,after%20a%20period%20of%20inactivity. [Accessed August 12, 2020].
- Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center. Rheumatoid Arthritis Signs and Symptoms. Available at: https://www.hopkinsarthritis.org/arthritis-info/rheumatoid-arthritis/ra-symptoms/. [Accessed August 12, 2020].
- Arthritis Foundation. Rheumatoid Arthritis. Available at: https://www.arthritis.org/diseases/rheumatoid-arthritis. [Accessed August 12, 2020].