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Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms

The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) usually develop gradually. The first symptoms are often felt in small joints, such as your fingers and toes, although shoulders and knees can be affected early, and muscle stiffness can be a prominent early feature.

Flare-ups

The symptoms of RA vary from person to person. They can come and go, and they may change over time. You will experience flare-ups when, from time to time, your condition will worsen and your symptoms will be more intense and severe.

You can experience a flare-up at any time of the day or night. However, it is likely that your symptoms will be more painful in the morning, when you first wake up. Usually, your symptoms will begin to ease as the day progresses and you start using and flexing your joints.

Symptoms

The symptoms of RA are outlined below.

Pain

This is usually a throbbing and aching sort of pain. It is usually worse in the mornings and after you have been sitting still for a while. Pain is often felt while you are resting, not after activity.

Stiffness

Joints affected by RA can feel stiff, especially in the morning. Morning stiffness associated with a kind of arthritis called ‘osteoarthritis’ usually wears off within 30 minutes of getting up in the morning. However, RA morning stiffness usually lasts longer than half an hour.

Warmth and redness

The lining of the affected joint becomes inflamed, causing the joints to swell, become hot, tender to touch and painful.

RA can also cause inflammation around the joints, such as rheumatoid nodules, and in other parts of your body. The condition can also cause inflammation of your tear glands, salivary glands, the lining of your heart and lungs, and your blood vessels.

Source: NHS Choices, UK (Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis)

Last reviewed: July 2015

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