Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are focused to the target of damage and accordingly manifest themselves.
Rheumatoid arthritis can be tough to diagnose because its symptoms can be similar to those of other types of arthritis, which number more than a hundred. Lab tests are not always accurate and you could have rheumatoid arthritis and yet your RA test can be negative. X-rays will show signs but late. At such times, the expertise of the experienced doctor will diagnose your RA from its symptoms. It is important to diagnose RA early and start prompt treatment for a better prognosis.
RA commonly attacks the smaller synovial joints of the hands and legs such as the fingers, wrists, feet, and the ankles. Therefore, if you are suffering from rheumatoid arthritis of the hands or the feet, you will feel the symptoms pertaining to the affected joints. The symptoms are the same such as pain, stiffness, swelling and tenderness.
It also attacks and causes complications on other body parts such as the skin, glands, pleura of the lungs, pericardium of the heart, and the bones. Symptoms and signs of the complications accordingly manifest.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease and you have to face the symptoms and take treatment lifelong. However, there are typically periods of remissions when the tissue inflammation and symptoms subside and patient feels well but when the inflammatory condition flares up the symptoms reappear. These periods are called periods of remission and periods of flare respectively.
Remission periods can appear spontaneously with or without treatment and can last for weeks, or months or years. Flare-ups can last for a few days or a few weeks and this duration increases as the disease progresses.
Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis early is often a difficult task, because the symptoms can be non-specific and can be identified with other conditions as well. RA early symptoms include:
- Fatigue is probably the first symptom that can come weeks before any other symptom presents. It is accompanied by a feeling of sickness and depression.
- Muscle soreness,
- Low-grade fever of rheumatoid arthritis is typically under 101°F and without any other apparent cause such as viral or bacterial infection or any other disease,
- Loss of appetite leading to
- Weakness and
- Weight loss
Joint symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis during flares
As mentioned above, rheumatoid arthritis commonly attacks the lining of the small synovial joints such as the joints of the hands, fingers, and the feet.
The joints show signs of inflammation, get painful, swollen, stiff leading to limited movements, and become warm, red and tender.
More than one joints are affected. Rarely, only a single joint may be involved.
Typically, in RA the same joints are involved on both sides of the body. It is therefore referred to as symmetric polyarthritis.
A typical feature in RA is the early morning stiffness and rheumatoid arthritis pain, which later is relieved by movements. This is called morning stiffness and post-sedentary stiffness.
This pain and stiffness typically also appear after a period of inactivity being again relieved by movements. This is a differentiating point with osteoarthritis where the pain is aggravated by movement and only one of the larger joint is involved.
The tendons, the cartilage and the bone surfaces of the rheumatoid arthritis joint get eroded leading to limitations of movement and deformity of the joint.
Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in the hands include an increasing difficulty to perform daily minor tasks like holding a glass or a spoon or turning a doorknob.
Symptoms of RA of the feet include pain during standing and walking more so on an uneven surface and especially in the morning. The pain occurs just below the fibula on the outer side of the feet. More than 90% of the people with rheumatoid arthritis disease develop symptoms in the feet. As the disease progresses, the patient can develop a flat foot deformity. .
Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) is the most common type of arthritis in children under the age of 16 years. Symptoms include pain, swelling and morning stiffness in the affected joint causing a limping gait, irritability, crying and loss of appetite.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Complications and Their Symptoms
As mentioned above, RA may also affect other organs and parts of the body, besides the joints.
RA skin complications and symptoms
Small rheumatoid nodules appear subcutaneously (below the skin). They may vary in size from a few millimeters to a few centimeters. They usually appear on the bony prominences. Reddish or purplish discoloration patches appear on the skin due to vasculitis of the small blood capillaries.
Glands around the eyes and throat become enlarged due to inflammation leading to dryness of the eyes and the throat. Inflammation caused in the eyes causes pain and can even cause loss of vision. Dryness of the eyes is the most common complication of rheumatoid arthritis.
Lungs complications in rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis can cause inflammation of the pleura (outer lining of the lungs), which leads to pleurisy. This gives rise to symptoms of chest pain that increase on deep breathing, cough and shortness of breath.
Heart complications in rheumatoid arthritis
Inflammation of the pericardium caused by RA leads to chest pain. Patients of RA are prone to atherosclerosis, thereby making them more inclined to get a heart attack or a stroke.
Rheumatoid arthritis can give rise to anemia and its complications because it causes a reduction in the red blood cells and white blood cells count in the blood. The former causes anemia while the latter increases the risk of infections.
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused due to pinching of the median nerve, which passes through the carpal tunnel because of the swelling over the wrist joints caused by rheumatoid arthritis. This produces symptoms of tingling, numbness and a burning sensation in the hands.
Osteoporosis (reduced bone density)
Osteoporosis occurs due to immobilization of the joints caused by the rheumatoid arthritis pain. This RA complication can also occur due to side effects caused by long-term medication given for rheumatoid arthritis such as steroids.