Do you ever wake up with stiff, aching joints? Maybe you’ve noticed that your hands or feet seem to be more swollen than usual. These could be early signs of a common yet often misunderstood condition called rheumatoid arthritis.
This article will explain the signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, so you can be better informed and take action if needed. But before we dive in, let’s briefly discuss what rheumatoid arthritis is.
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What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Simply put, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that affects your joints. This means that your immune system, which normally protects you from harmful invaders, mistakenly attacks your own body’s tissues.
In the case of RA, the immune system targets the lining of your joints, causing inflammation, pain, and, eventually, joint damage.
The symptoms of RA can vary from person to person, but there are some common signs that you should be aware of. By the end of this post, you’ll have a clear understanding of these symptoms and be better equipped to identify them.
Signs and Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
1. Joint Pain and Stiffness
One of the first signs of rheumatoid arthritis is often joint pain and stiffness. This discomfort tends to be worse in the morning or after a period of inactivity. You might notice that your joints are:
- Tender to the touch
- Swollen or warm
- Stiff, especially upon waking up
This stiffness can last for hours, making it difficult to start your day. If you’re experiencing stiffness lasting more than 30 minutes each morning, it’s time to pay attention. As RA progresses, the pain and stiffness can spread to other joints, often affecting both sides of the body symmetrically.
2. Swollen Joints
When your body is fighting an internal battle against its own immune system, inflammation is a common side effect. With RA, you might notice swollen, tender joints that are warm to the touch. This is often most noticeable in the hands, wrists, and feet.
3. Fatigue and Weakness
Another common symptom of RA is fatigue, which can be both persistent and debilitating. You may find yourself feeling:
- Exhausted even after a full night’s sleep
- Unable to concentrate or think clearly
- Lacking the energy to complete daily tasks
Weakness in the muscles around the affected joints can also develop, making it more difficult to move or carry out daily activities.
4. Decreased Range of Motion
As the inflammation in your joints worsens, it can lead to a decreased range of motion. This means that you might have trouble:
- Bending or straightening your fingers
- Gripping objects tightly
- Walking without pain or discomfort
This loss of mobility can greatly impact your quality of life, making it harder to perform daily tasks and enjoy your favorite activities.
5. Low-Grade Fever
Sometimes, RA can cause a low-grade fever that lingers. If you’re experiencing a mild fever alongside other RA symptoms, it’s another reason to reach out to your doctor for a thorough evaluation.
6. Rheumatoid Nodules
In some cases, people with RA develop small, firm lumps called rheumatoid nodules. These nodules usually form under the skin near affected joints and can be a clear indication that your body is fighting an autoimmune battle.
7. Dry Eyes or Mouth
Another surprising symptom of rheumatoid arthritis is dryness in your eyes or mouth. This is because RA can sometimes affect the glands that produce tears and saliva, leading to a condition called Sjögren’s syndrome. If you’re struggling with persistent dry eyes or a dry mouth alongside other RA symptoms, make sure to mention it to your doctor.
8. Numbness or Tingling in the Hands or Feet
Experiencing numbness or tingling in your hands or feet can be another indication of rheumatoid arthritis. This symptom occurs due to swelling compressing the nerves near the affected joints.
The sensation is often described as a “pins and needles” feeling and can be quite uncomfortable. Besides, this sensation is often worse at night.
9. Weight Loss
Unintentional weight loss is yet another symptom that can be associated with rheumatoid arthritis. The inflammation caused by RA can lead to a decreased appetite and changes in your metabolism, resulting in weight loss.