Do You Have Rheumatoid Arthritis? Watch for These Symptoms

View as:|
1 of 10
Next
iStock

Do you have rheumatoid arthritis but don’t know it? The first symptoms — fatigue, weakness, low-grade fever, and loss of appetite or weight – are present in a host of other illnesses. Therefore, many people, including doctors, may not suspect arthritis. In order to secure the right diagnosis and the most effective treatment, you need to distinguish symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis from its cousins. Here are eight indicators of the illness.

iStock

Stiffness lasting more than an hour

When morning stiffness occurs with rheumatoid arthritis, it usually lasts more than an hour and gradually improves during the day. By comparison, morning stiffness typically lasts less than half an hour in people with osteoarthritis. Stiffness tends to last longer when rheumatoid arthritis is more severe and generally increases after long periods of sitting.

iStock

Symmetrical swelling

The symmetrical pattern and the presence of inflammation distinguish rheumatoid arthritis from osteoarthritis. With osteoarthritis, joints ache and feel tender, but there is little or no swelling. In people with rheumatoid arthritis, however, affected joints become inflamed (red, warm, swollen and painful). Rheumatoid arthritis typically starts on both sides of the body at once and occurs in small as well as large joints, especially in the hands and fingers, wrists, knees, ankles, and feet.

iStock

Rheumatoid nodules or lumps under the skin

Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis rarely affects the top joints of the fingers (those closest to the fingernails). Some people who have rheumatoid arthritis develop rheumatoid nodules—hard lumps of tissue under the skin, especially near the elbows. Rheumatoid nodules often indicate more severe disease activity or ongoing inflammation; they sometimes disappear when disease activity lessens.

iStock

Membrane and connective-tissue inflammation

Rheumatoid arthritis inflammation may spread to membranes and connective tissues throughout the body. Some people develop inflammation of the membrane lining the chest wall, or pleurisy. Nerve damage, or neuropathy, may occur when an inflamed joint compresses a nerve. Many people with rheumatoid arthritis also develop mild anemia, a decreased number of red blood cells.

Thinkstock

Sjögren’s syndrome

In about 10 to 15 percent of people with rheumatoid arthritis, primarily women, glands around the eyes and mouth are affected, causing decreased production of tears and saliva. This condition is known as Sjögren’s syndrome. The two main symptoms are dry eyes and a dry mouth. Less common symptoms include a dry cough, fatigue, swollen salivary glands, and dry skin.

Thinkstock

Inflammation of blood vessels

Less frequently, rheumatoid arthritis causes inflammation of blood vessels throughout the body, orvasculitis, or in the membrane surrounding the heart, called pericarditis. A rare complication is Felty syndrome, in which the spleen enlarges and white blood cell count drops, leading to recurrent infections.

iStock

Cartilage and bone damage

In later stages, damage to cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and bones causes deformity, weakness and immobility. Individuals who have advanced rheumatoid arthritis frequently have trouble performing tasks such as buttoning a blouse or shirt, combing their hair, tying shoelaces, holding a fork, opening doors or turning the steering wheel of a car. Severe rheumatoid arthritis also makes people with the condition more susceptible to infection and increases the risk of developing heart disease.

iStock

Flare-ups

Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that waxes and wanes. It is marked by periods of increased disease activity, known as flare-ups or flares. These flares are characterized by worsening joint pain, stiffness and inflammation. When rheumatoid arthritis flares, the continuing inflammatory process can lead to irreversible joint damage.

iStock

Document your symptoms

You know what to look for: recognizable symptoms such as morning stiffness and symmetrical joint pain. It can be helpful to document your symptoms – where in the body you experience discomfort, details of the sensation, how long they last, and the times they occur. This will allow you to communicate more effectively with your doctor so that together you can determine an accurate diagnosis and pursue a more direct treatment plan.