What is it?

Rheumatoid arthritis is a long-term condition that causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints. The symptoms usually affect the hands, feet and wrists.

What are the symptoms?

Rheumatoid arthritis mainly affects the joints, although it can cause problems in other parts of the body too. The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis often develop gradually over several weeks, but some cases can progress quickly over a number of days. The symptoms vary from person to person. They can come and go, and may change over time. You may occasionally experience flares when your condition deteriorates and your symptoms become more severe.

Symptoms affecting the joints

Rheumatoid arthritis is primarily a condition that affects the joints. It can cause problems in any joint in the body, although the small joints in the hands and feet are often the first to be affected. Rheumatoid arthritis typically affects the joints symmetrically (both sides of the body at the same time and to the same extent), but this is not always the case.

The main symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis affecting the joints are outlined below:


The joint pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis is usually a throbbing and aching pain. It is often worse in the mornings and after a period of inactivity.


Joints affected by rheumatoid arthritis can feel stiff. For example, if your hands are affected, you may not be able to fully bend your fingers or form a fist. Like joint pain, the stiffness is often more severe in the morning or after a period of inactivity. Morning stiffness associated with another type of arthritis called osteoarthritis usually wears off within 30 minutes of getting up, but rheumatoid arthritis morning stiffness often lasts longer than this.

Swelling, warmth and redness

The lining of joints affected by rheumatoid arthritis become inflamed, which can cause the joints to swell, and become hot and tender to touch. In some people, firm swellings called rheumatoid nodules can also develop under the skin around affected joints.

Additional symptoms

As well as problems affecting the joints, some people with rheumatoid arthritis experience a range of more general symptoms, such as:

  • Tiredness and a lack of energy.
  • A high temperature (fever).
  • Sweating.
  • A poor appetite.
  • weight loss.

The inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis can also sometimes cause problems affecting other areas of the body, including dry eyes if the eyes are affected and chest pain if the heart or lungs are affected. Read more about the complications of rheumatoid arthritis.

What to expect?

If you are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, you can consider discussing the following subjects with your doctor:

  • To help evaluate and confirm the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, your doctor may request various tests. You can ask your Gp what are they and what are your preparations before undergoing the tests.
  • Some patients with rheumatoid arthritis are prescribed medication they will need to use lifelong. Is this the case for you as well?
  • Patients with rheumatoid arthritis may need to be referred to a rheumatologist, a doctor that specialises in arthritis. Is this the case for you as well?
  • A healthy diet, quitting smoking and an active lifestyle can help in improve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Which changes can you make in your lifestyle?

In addition to treatment by your doctor you can try the following things:

  • Pain relievers or NSAIDs might help in relieving pain and inflammation.
  • Regular exercise is necessary to make joints healthier. The more mobile they are, the less are the chances of stiffness and deformities. Walking every day for at least 30 minutes will help. Physiotherapy will also go a long way in relieving stiffness and swelling.
  • Acute pain can be relieved by application of heating pads or hot water bottle. If either option is not available, a simple hot bath will do the trick.
  • Swimming or water exercises in a temperature-controlled pool will help in gaining muscle strength.
  • Yoga not only has a soothing effect on joint inflammation, but also eases stress and promotes healing.

Think you might have Rheumatoid arthritis?

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Think you might have Rheumatoid arthritis?