Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) most often affects multiple joints throughout the body and the same joints on both sides of the body (example: right hand and left hand are both affected). The symptoms of RA vary from mild to severe depending on the person. Though RA is a chronic condition, symptoms usually flare up and subside intermittently. Some people have symptoms that get worse over time, while others have long periods without symptom flares.
Hallmark symptoms of RA include: Increased pain and stiffness in the morning and after inactivity—common in multiple jointsMorning stiffness and pain that usually lasts 30-60 minutesRed, swollen, warm jointsDeformed, misshapen joints
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Because inflammation of RA can affect many areas of the body it may also cause: Intense fatigue, decreased energyMuscle achesDecreased appetiteWeight lossFever and sweatsDepressionProblems sleepingBumps occurring under the skin—rheumatoid nodules
RA can affect other parts of the body, causing serious health complications. This is especially true if RA remains untreated. Complications of RA include: Dislocation of the cervical spine—Joint damage can weaken the small bones and supporting tissues in the neck.Connective tissue disorders—Inflammation can compress nerves in the joints, which may affect sensation and mobility.Respiratory conditions—Inflammatory responses damage and scar lung tissue making breathing difficult.
Cardiovascular problems—Inflammation in blood vessel walls narrows the arteries. Narrowed arteries reduce blood flow to the heart and brain, making the heart pump harder, which can lead to
heart failure. Blood clots can get trapped in narrowed arteries, which can lead to a
Inflammation of the artery walls—arteritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Foundation website. Available at:
http://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/rheumatoid-arthritis. October 30, 2014.
Rheumatoid arthritis. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/musculoskeletal-and-connective-tissue-disorders/joint-disorders/rheumatoid-arthritis-ra. Updated May 2013. Accessed October 30, 2014.
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
website. Available at:
http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Rheumatic_Disease/default.asp. Updated August 2014. Accessed October 30, 2014.
Wasserman AM. Diagnosis and management of rheumatoid arthritis. Am Fam Physician. 2011;84(11):1245-1252.
Last reviewed June 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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