Disease: Rheumatoid Arthritis Early Symptoms and Signs

    What are early signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, and what areas of the body are affected?

    While early signs and symptoms of RA can be mimicked by other diseases, the symptoms and signs are very characteristic of rheumatoid disease. Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and signs include the following:

    Fatigue

    Fatigue is a very common symptom in all stages of rheumatoid arthritis, particularly when the joint inflammation is active. Fatigue in rheumatoid arthritis can be caused by the body's reaction to inflammation, poor sleep, anemia, and medications.

    The fatigue of rheumatoid arthritis that results in lack of energy can adversely affect emotions and mood, occupation, relationships with people, sex drive, productivity, attentiveness, creativity, and happiness.

    Joint pain

    Joint pain from rheumatoid arthritis is caused by the inflammation present in a joint when the disease is active. Joint pain can also occur when the disease is inactive or controlled if the joint has been damaged by rheumatoid arthritis in the past.

    Active rheumatoid arthritis causes the joint to swell because of both thickening of the joint lining tissue (synovium) and because of excess joint fluid. The swollen, inflamed joint stretches and irritates the capsule that surrounds the joint. The joint capsule has nerves endings within it that immediately send pain signals to the brain.

    Past rheumatoid arthritis can lead to permanent joint destruction with damaged cartilage, bone, and ligaments. When the damaged joint is used, it can cause intense pain.

    Joint stiffness

    Stiff joints are typical of rheumatoid arthritis. Joints that are affected by active rheumatoid arthritis are inflamed and characteristically stiffer in the morning than later in the day. Doctors use the duration of the morning stiffness as a measure of the severity of the active joint inflammation. As rheumatoid arthritis responds to treatment, the duration of the morning joint stiffness diminishes.

    Loss of joint range of motion

    As the joints of rheumatoid arthritis become more inflamed with active disease, they tend to have incomplete range of motion. The range of motion is limited by the swelling within the joint.

    Joints affected by longstanding rheumatoid arthritis commonly lose range of motion permanently.

    Many joints affected (polyarthritis)

    Usually, but not always, rheumatoid arthritis affects many joints. Classically, RA affects the small joints of the hands and wrists and balls of the feet. Also, not uncommonly, knees, elbows, hips, ankles, and shoulders can be inflamed.

    Sometimes, only a few joints are involved. Less frequently, a singular joint is involved. Both of these scenarios are more common in childhood inflammatory arthritis (juvenile rheumatoid arthritis).

    When four or more joints are inflamed, the condition is referred to as polyarthritis. When only a few joints are inflamed, it is referred to as oligoarthritis. When a single joint is inflamed, it is referred to as monoarthritis.

    Limping

    Limping from poor lower extremity function can be caused by many diseases of the nerves, muscles, and bones of the lower extremities. Limping frequently occurs when rheumatoid arthritis affects the hips, knees, ankles, or feet. Pain, loss of range of motion, and joint swelling all can cause a person with rheumatoid arthritis to have a noticeable limp. It is not unusual for a young child with rheumatoid arthritis to have a painless limp as the first sign of the rheumatoid disease.

    Joint tenderness

    Rheumatoid arthritis characteristically leads to tenderness of involved joints. This is because the inflamed joint lining tissue has irritated the nerves in the joint capsule. When the irritated joint capsule is compressed by external pressure, such as from touching the joint, it is frequently tender. The pain elicited from compression is immediate. This is one of the reasons that rheumatoid arthritis can lead to difficulty sleeping and insomnia.

    Joint swelling

    Swollen joints are very common in rheumatoid arthritis. Sometimes the joint swelling is minimal and can be difficult to appreciate. Other times the joint swelling is very apparent. Generally, people who are affected by rheumatoid arthritis can easily tell when their joints are swollen. The joint swelling can lead to loss of range of motion of the joint. Joint swelling in the fingers can make it hard to get rings off and on easily.

    Joint redness

    Redness occurs over joints when they are inflamed. The redness in the skin over an inflamed joint from rheumatoid arthritis occurs because the capillaries of that skin are widened by the adjacent inflammation. These widened capillaries are referred to as dilated capillaries. Joint redness does not occur in all inflamed joints from rheumatoid arthritis. Sometimes the inflammation in the joint is inadequate to cause the capillaries in the skin to dilate.

    Joint warmth

    Warmth of the joints affected by rheumatoid arthritis is a sign of active inflammation. Doctors look for joint warmth as they monitor the activity of the disease. As rheumatoid arthritis responds to treatment, joint warmth resolves. Sometimes joint warmth is present without visible joint swelling or redness.

    Joint stiffness

    Stiff joints are typical of rheumatoid arthritis. Joints that are affected by active rheumatoid arthritis are inflamed and characteristically stiffer in the morning than later in the day. Doctors use the duration of the morning stiffness as a measure of the severity of the active joint inflammation. As rheumatoid arthritis responds to treatment, the duration of the morning joint stiffness diminishes.

    Loss of joint range of motion

    As the joints of rheumatoid arthritis become more inflamed with active disease, they tend to have incomplete range of motion. The range of motion is limited by the swelling within the joint.

    Joints affected by longstanding rheumatoid arthritis commonly lose range of motion permanently.

    Many joints affected (polyarthritis)

    Usually, but not always, rheumatoid arthritis affects many joints. Classically, RA affects the small joints of the hands and wrists and balls of the feet. Also, not uncommonly, knees, elbows, hips, ankles, and shoulders can be inflamed.

    Sometimes, only a few joints are involved. Less frequently, a singular joint is involved. Both of these scenarios are more common in childhood inflammatory arthritis (juvenile rheumatoid arthritis).

    When four or more joints are inflamed, the condition is referred to as polyarthritis. When only a few joints are inflamed, it is referred to as oligoarthritis. When a single joint is inflamed, it is referred to as monoarthritis.

    Limping

    Limping from poor lower extremity function can be caused by many diseases of the nerves, muscles, and bones of the lower extremities. Limping frequently occurs when rheumatoid arthritis affects the hips, knees, ankles, or feet. Pain, loss of range of motion, and joint swelling all can cause a person with rheumatoid arthritis to have a noticeable limp. It is not unusual for a young child with rheumatoid arthritis to have a painless limp as the first sign of the rheumatoid disease.

    Source: http://www.rxlist.com

    As the joints of rheumatoid arthritis become more inflamed with active disease, they tend to have incomplete range of motion. The range of motion is limited by the swelling within the joint.

    Joints affected by longstanding rheumatoid arthritis commonly lose range of motion permanently.

    Source: http://www.rxlist.com

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