Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are focused on 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.

The diagnostic procedure may not always help because the laboratory tests are not always accurate and you could have rheumatoid arthritis and yet your rheumatoid factor test can be negative.

X-rays will show signs but are mostly late. At such times, the expertise of an 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 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 remission when the tissue inflammation and symptoms subside and the patient feels well.

But, when the inflammatory condition flares up the rheumatoid arthritis 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, months, or years. Flare-ups can last for a few days or a few weeks and this duration increases as the disease progresses.

Early 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. Early symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Malaise,
  • 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 feet.

The joints show signs of inflammation, get painful, swollen, and stiff leading to limited movements, and become warm, red, and tender. More than one joint is 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 of rheumatoid arthritis is the early morning stiffness and 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 joints 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.

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 symptoms in the hands

When your hands are affected by rheumatoid arthritis, you may experience swelling, pain, and tenderness around the affected joint. The joint may feel warm to the touch. The symptoms tend to be symmetrical, which means they develop in the same joints on both right and left hands.

You will have increasing difficulty performing daily minor tasks like holding a glass or a spoon or turning a doorknob.

Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms of the feet

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 people with rheumatoid arthritis disease develop symptoms in the feet. As the disease progresses, the patient can develop a flat foot deformity.

RA skin 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.

Lung symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis can cause inflammation of the pleura (outer lining of the lungs), which leads to pleurisy. This gives rise to symptom of chest pain that increases on deep breathing, cough, and shortness of breath.

Heart symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis

Inflammation of the pericardium caused by RA leads to chest pain. Patients with 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 cell and white blood cell 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 the 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 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.