Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic (long-term) disease. Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms can come and go, and each person with RA is affected differently. Some people have long periods of remission. Their rheumatoid arthritis is inactive, and they have few or no symptoms during this time. Other people might have near-constant rheumatoid arthritis symptoms for months at a stretch.
Although rheumatoid arthritis can involve different parts the body, joints are always affected. When the disease acts up, joints become inflamed. Inflammation is the body's natural response to infection or other threats, but in rheumatoid arthritis inflammation occurs inappropriately and for unknown reasons.
Rheumatoid Arthritis and Joint Inflammation
Joint inflammation is a hallmark of rheumatoid arthritis. That includes:
- Stiffness. The joint is harder to use and might have a limited range of motion. "Morning stiffness" is one of the hallmark symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. While many people with other forms of arthritis have stiff joints in the morning, it takes people with rheumatoid arthritis more than an hour (sometimes several hours) before their joints feel loose.
- Swelling. Fluid enters into the joint and it becomes puffy; this also contributes to stiffness.
- Pain. Inflammation inside a joint makes it sensitive and tender. Prolonged inflammation causes damage that also contributes to pain.
- Redness and warmth. The joints may be somewhat warmer and more pink or red than neighboring skin.
Which joints does RA affect? The hands are almost always affected, although literally any joint can be affected with rheumatoid arthritis symptoms: knees, wrists, neck, shoulders, elbows, even the jaw. Joints are usually affected in a symmetrical pattern -- the same joints on both sides of the body.