23 Early Symptoms for Rheumatoid Arthritis (CRUCIAL Advice)

'Spotting The Signs Early Will Make All The Difference.....'

Early symptoms for rheumatoid arthritis are many and varied – they can attack at any age, in any part of the body and they have no cure.

Early diagnosis is your only route to some comfort. The quicker you catch it, the quicker you can start trying to slow it’s progression and continue to live a full life.

Rheumatoid Arthritis With Fever

As we discussed in our earlier article ‘the difference between osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis’, rheumatoid arthritis is an ‘auto-immune’ disease – meaning your own bodies’ defence gets confused between your own body and the germs it thinks are attacking you.

Ultimately, your own body turns against you attacking the fluid around your joints and causing intense arthritic pain and swelling.  

However, because this is an auto-immune disease it means you normally don’t just get the pain of a typical arthritis, but you also get many symptoms associated with a fever.

Rheumatoid arthritis does not have a cure, but recognising the symptoms from an early stage can be essential in finding the best management and keeping your symptoms under some control.

We have compiled a total of 23 potential early symptoms, some more common than others, but all important in catching ‘RA’ in the early stages.

We provide a summary list first and then look at each one in just a little more detail.

One really important ‘myth’ to be aware of – rheumatoid arthritis is not a disease that only attacks older people.

In actual fact according to the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society in the UK ,the average age for developing Rheumatoid Arthritis was just 40-60 years old. Indeed, some very unfortunate individuals as young as 14 are recorded as having been diagnosed with early onset RA.

As with most progressive diseases, it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact early symptoms for rheumatoid arthritis – which symptoms you suffer and in what order will depend on many factors, including a considerable a chunk of luck.

Some people may be genetically led to first developing lumps under their skin around the joints under attack, while others may experience a fever first and some of you will undoubtedly feel the joint pain first.

There is however a difficult contradiction in recognizing early symptoms.

As Scott noted in his research for The British Medical Bulletin, while on the one hand there is an emphasis on early aggressive treatment of RA, many clinicians will still prefer to wait several months for symptoms to be clear before making the definite diagnosis. 

There is also no telling which body parts will be affected first – again this is different for every individual. Sadly, there is no set plan as to how rheumatoid arthritis attacks.

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Early Symptoms For Rheumatoid Arthritis Include –

  1. Joint Pain
  2. Joint Swelling
  3. Morning Stiffness
  4. Decreased Range of Motion
  5. A ‘Crunching Feeling’ In the Joints
  6. Pain in parallel or multiple Joints
  7. Fever
  8. Fatigue
  9. General Weakness
  10. Hard to Heal Injuries
  11. Numbness and Tingling
  12. Dry Mouth/ Dry Eyes
  13. Dry, Itchy, Inflamed Eyes (Pink Eye)
  14. Eye Discharge
  15. Chest Pain
  16. Hard Bumps Under Your Skin
  17. Weight Loss/ Lack of Appetite
  18. Headaches
  19. Foot Trouble (Bunions, Hammertoe, Bone Collapse)
  20. Broken Bones
  21. Mood Swings
  22. Hearing Loss
  23. Breathing Difficulties

Early Symptoms For Rheumatoid Arthritis In More Detail –

1.Joint Pain

As the rheumatoid arthritis attacks the synovial fluid around the joints, it will cause very painful abrasion in the joints as bones start to rub together.

2.Joint Swelling

As bones rub together it is likely to cause inflammation of the tendons and surrounding tissues presenting itself as joint swelling.

3.Morning Stiffness

This is true of a number of types of arthritis that affect your joints. The difference with rheumatoid arthritis is that your joints don’t just ‘free up’ after a period of forced movement.

4.Decreased Range of Motion

As the joints effectively lose their ‘oil’, even after the ‘stiffness’ has loosened, you are likely to find that the total range of motion is greatly reduced. This will get quickly worse until a correct diagnosis is formed and a treatment plan agreed on.

5.A ‘Crunching Feeling’ In the Joints

Again, this came direct from one of our sufferers who reported that she could really feel the bones in her hands ‘crunching’ as she tried to either open or close them.

6.Pain In Parallel Or Multiple Joints

This is a key difference between rheumatoid and osteoarthritis – because rheumatoid arthritis is a problem with your immune system, it spreads much quicker than osteoarthritis (which is just the ‘wearing out’ of certain joints).

It is also very common for it to attack two sides of the same body part at the same time – so for example you might get hip pain on both sides or pain in both hands at the same level of progression. With other forms of arthritis, this may only affect one side initially.

Classic Areas Affected By Rheumatoid Arthritis……

7.Fever

This is perhaps one of the less obvious symptoms, but still quite common in sufferers none the less. In the early diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis the key areas that a doctor would consider would be around is the temperature under 101 degrees F without any preceding virus with no other defined factors such as an infection elsewhere or cancer.

8.Fatigue

Even without a fever, the effect of your own bodies’ defence system attacking yourself is very likely to leave you feeling exhausted and in a general haze.

9.General Weakness

Different to fatigue, this general weakness might mean an inability to squash an orange between your fingers or to carry the rubbish out. Normal day-to-day activities that suddenly you can no longer do with the ease you are used to.

10.Hard to Heal Injuries

Again, with any autoimmune disease one of the less obvious, but no less dangerous, effects is that your normal ability to heal from injuries is greatly impaired.

11.Numbness and Tingling

As your rheumatoid arthritis attacks your blood vessels, particularly in your hands and feet, it can cause nerve damage or even cause some blood vessels to shut down altogether.

12.Dry Mouth/ Dry Eyes

If your autoimmune system starts to attack the glands that produce saliva in your mouth then will you very likely experience a dry mouth.

This is characterised by a difficulty in swallowing, enhanced sensitivity to spicy foods and increased likelihood of infections or tooth decay with a very sore mouth. It can also cause dry eyes (more likely to get an infection), dry nose, dry vagina or even dry skin.

The technical term for this attack on your glands is called  ‘Sjögren’s syndrome’ and it can manifest in isolation. However, it is also quite likely to run in parallel with rheumatoid arthritis since it is indicative of the same immune problem.

13.Dry, Itchy, Inflamed Eyes (Pink Eye)

It isn’t that prevalent, but rheumatoid arthritis can cause inflammation in the white part of your eye (the sclera) leading to blurry vision, redness (‘pink eye’) and pain.

14.Eye Discharge

Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the eyelids caused by infection. Just as rheumatoid arthritis can attack your tear ducts, so the infection can lead to conjunctivitis in the eye.

15.Chest Pain

Over time rheumatoid arthritis encourages the build up of plaque in your arteries. This makes you much more likely to get heart disease (atherosclerosis) and can lead to a heart attack.

Rheumatoid arthritis can also cause the layers of tissue around your heart to become inflamed, causing the most intense chest pain that is often at first thought to be a heart attack. It is actually known ‘Pericarditis’ but is often cause by rheumatoid arthritis. Both require immediate medical treatment

16.Hard Bumps Under Your Skin

‘Rheumatoid Nodules’ as is their technical term, are lumps that form under your skin, typically on your hands/ feet and around other joints that are being attacked. The lumps themselves are distinctively round and not like any other lump you are likely to get (wart/ pimples/ cysts etc). They don’t bleed and are not contagious but can cause considerable discomfort.

17.Weight Loss/ Lack of Appetite

Weight loss and lack of appetite can often be the result of the belly pain caused by ‘rheumatoid vasculitis’. This is a rare complication of rheumatoid arthritis when the inflammation spreads in to your blood vessels.

18.Headaches

Anybody suffering with chronic pain is likely to also suffer with headaches, partly due to sleep deprivation from the discomfort around your joints, partly also down to the stress of worry and finally because you might well already be on some from of medication for the undiagnosed swelling that is also your rheumatoid arthritis.

19.Foot Trouble (Claw Toe, Difficulty Walking On Uneven Ground, Foot Arch Collapses)

Rheumatoid arthritis can often cause an unconscious shifting of your weight away from your heel on to the front of your foot, leading to a difficulty with balance and toe issues such as hammertoes.

This tends to occur slightly later in the development of the arthritis (depending on when you are diagnosed) – initially you are more likely to see bunions forming and soreness/ swelling in your foot that lasts more than a few days.

In later stage Rheumatoid arthritis, you could even find the arch of your foot collapsing as the bone has been eaten away. One of many reasons why you should never ignore potential early symptoms!

20.Broken Bones

Bones become weaker as a result of the attacks on them both by your autoimmune disease and also some drugs such as steroids, that are sometimes taken in the early days before a formal diagnosis.

21.Mood Swings

It’s not surprising really, but the sudden onset of tiredness, pain in various areas and stiffness can easily cause fairly dramatic mood swings in people. In the longer term, the stress of dealing with Rheumatoid arthritis and all it brings, is likely only to exacerbate these even further.

22.Hearing Loss

This is unusual to be an early symptom, but hearing loss or a ringing in your ears (Tinnitus) has been known to be a symptom of rheumatoid arthritis.

23.Breathing Difficulties

If the inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis spreads to your lungs it is very likely to cause scar tissue to form, resulting in breathing difficulties, or very strong cough. Former and current smokers are particularly susceptible to this.

The Final Word –

Spotting the early symptoms for rheumatoid arthritis is essential in getting a head start on a vicious disease. If you start suffering with any of the above, don’t hesitate to visit your local doctor – it is always better to rule out what it isn’t than carry on until the symptoms become unbearable and then find out that you can’t necessarily wind the ‘symptom clock’ back.

There is much that science and the medical profession still do not know about rheumatoid arthritis.

Like many sources of chronic pain it is frequently left to the individual to manage your own condition. This is partly down to a lack of funded research, but also largely because every body responds differently.

Rheumatoid arthritis is your own complicated body turning against you. It sounds ridiculous – but everyone attacks themselves differently!

This is the reason for such a wide range of potential symptoms and why when we start reviewing potential treatment options, we brake it down by body part. As is often the case with chronic pain management, there truly is no ‘one size fits all’ solution.

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References –

1. National Rheumaotid Arthritis Society – What Is RA?
2. David L Scott. (2007) Early Rheumatoid Arthritis. British Medical Bulletin, Volume 81-82, Issue 1, 2007, Pages 97–114.

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