Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic condition that causes joint inflammation, pain, swelling and stiffness. It usually affects finger and wrist joints, but it can attack just about any joint in the body, including feet, knees, elbows, hips or shoulders. And the damage doesn't stop there. RA can hurt other parts of your body as well, such as your heart, lungs, eyes, nerves and digestive system.
Left untreated—or undertreated—many people with rheumatoid arthritis develop some form of disability, so early, aggressive treatment is key to maintaining an active life.
Signs and Symptoms of RA
The most common symptoms of RA are:
- Morning joint stiffness—usually in the hands or feet—that lasts more than 30 minutes to an hour after getting out of bed
- Pain, stiffness or swelling in three or more joints
- Symmetrical joint pain (i.e., joints on both sides of the body are affected)
Other early warning signs of rheumatoid arthritis include:
- Pea-size lumps, called nodules, under the skin
- Chronic low-grade fever
- Loss of appetite
- Accumulation of fluid (swelling) in your ankles or behind your knees
If you experience any of these symptoms—particularly joint discomfort—for more than two or three weeks, make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible. Why the rush? If it is RA, your best chance of stopping it is with early, intensive therapy—ideally within three to six months of your first symptoms.
Pain, stiffness and other symptoms similar to those of rheumatoid arthritis can be caused by many things, from a viral or bacterial infection, to Lyme disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus (another type of arthritis), fibromyalgia or simply an injury or strain.
If you experience unusual or persistent pain of any kind, make an appointment with a doctor to determine what may be causing your symptoms.
What are the causes and risk factors of RA?