What Are the Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?

The joints most commonly affected by rheumatoid arthritis are in the hands, wrists, feet, ankles, knees, shoulders, and elbows. The disease typically causes inflammation symmetrically in the body, meaning the same joints are affected on both sides of the body. Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis may begin suddenly or gradually.

The following are the most common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Inflamed, painful joints
  • Stiff joints
  • Enlarged and/or deformed joints (such as fingers bent toward the little finger and/or swollen wrists)
  • Frozen joints (joints that freeze in one position)
  • Cysts behind the knees that may rupture, causing lower leg swelling and pain
  • Hard nodules (bumps) under the skin near affected joints
  • Low-grade fever
  • Inflamed blood vessels (vasculitis) may occur occasionally, leading to nerve damage and leg sores
  • Inflamed membranes around the lungs (pleurisy), the sac around the heart (pericarditis), or inflammation and scarring of the lungs themselves, that may lead to chest pain, difficulty breathing, and abnormal heart function
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Sjögren's syndrome (dry eyes and mouth)
  • Eye inflammation

If a person has four or more of the following symptoms, he/she may be diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis:

  • Morning stiffness that lasts longer than one hour for at least six weeks
  • Three or more joints that are inflamed for at least six weeks
  • Presence of arthritis in the hand, wrist, or finger joints for at least six weeks
  • Blood tests that reveal rheumatoid factor
  • X-rays that show characteristic changes in the joints

The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis may resemble other medical conditions or problems, including acute rheumatic fever, Lyme disease, psoriatic arthritis, gout, osteoarthritis, gonococcal arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

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