16 Early Symptoms and Signs of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

What is rheumatoid arthritis (RA)?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a type of inflammatory arthritis. RA disease is characterized by chronic joint inflammation (in the fingers, hands, knees, feet, for example). RA may also be called rheumatoid disease because at times rheumatoid arthritis causes systemic illness that impacts many organs of the body.

What are early signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, and what areas of the body are affected?

While early symptoms of RA can be mimicked by other diseases, the symptoms and signs are very characteristic of rheumatoid disease. The 16 early RA symptoms and signs discussed in this article include the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Joint tenderness
  • Joint swelling
  • Joint redness
  • Joint warmth
  • Joint stiffness
  • Loss of joint range of motion
  • Many joints affected (polyarthritis)
  • Limping
  • Joint deformity
  • Both sides of the body affected (symmetric)
  • Loss of joint function
  • Anemia
  • Fever
  • Depression

What is the treatment for rheumatoid arthritis (RA)?

There is no known cure for rheumatoid arthritis. To date, the goal of treatment in rheumatoid arthritis is

  • to reduce joint inflammation and pain,
  • maximize joint function, and
  • prevent joint destruction and deformity.

Fatigue

Fatigue is a very common symptom in all stages of rheumatoid arthritis, particularly when the joint inflammation is active. Fatigue in rheumatoid arthritiscan be caused by the body’s reaction to inflammation, poor sleep, anemia, and medications.

The fatigue of rheumatoid arthritis that results in lack of energy can adversely affect emotions and mood, occupation, relationships with people, sex drive, productivity, attentiveness, creativity, and happiness. Fatigue from rheumatoid arthritis can also be associated with poor appetite and weight loss.

Joint pain

Joint pain from rheumatoid arthritis is caused by the inflammation present in a joint when the disease is active. Joint pain can also occur when the disease is inactive or controlled if the joint has been damaged by rheumatoid arthritis in the past.

Active rheumatoid arthritis causes the joint to swell because of both thickening of the joint lining tissue (synovium) and because of excess joint fluid. The swollen, inflamed joint stretches and irritates the capsule that surrounds the joint. The joint capsule has nerves endings within it that immediately send pain signals to the brain.

Past rheumatoid arthritis can lead to permanent joint destruction with damaged cartilage, bone, and ligaments. When the damaged joint is used, it can cause intense pain.

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