Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects 1.3 million Americans, and it’s three times more common in women. While RA shares symptoms with other conditions, if you’re experiencing any of these warning signs, speak to your doctor.
Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is an autoimmune disease that causes a person’s immune system to attack his or her own tissue lining the joints.
While the cause of RA is unclear, getting the right diagnosis as early as possible offers your best chance of limiting joint damage as well as mobility issues .
Here are symptoms to look out for from Jessica Gordon, MD, a rheumatologist at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City:
1. Joint Pain
Tenderness or pain of the joints is one of the most common symptoms among patients with RA. While there are other disorders that can cause this, the pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis is “usually symmetric so it’ll affect both hands and both wrists,” according to Dr. Gordon.
Early morning stiffness that can last from thirty minutes to two hours is another frequently cited issue. While the symptom can sometimes be confused for an injury, it’s important to consult a rheumatologist if the pain is unexplained.
Puffy or swollen hands, wrists, or feet can be a sign of the inflammation that occurs with RA. “It can really become enlarged and fluid can be present in the joint space itself. You can also see fluid in the knees and the ankles,” says Gordon.
Feeling tired or wiped out can be caused by many chronic diseases, but when considered in the context of other symptoms, fatigue among rheumatoid arthritis patients can be overwhelming and may be the reason why many end up going to a physician.
5. Loss of Function
Left untreated, RA can lead to damage in the joints which can lead to loss of mobility over time. But, Gordon says that with proper diagnosis and treatment “patients who have RA really should be able to enjoy a normal quality of life.”