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What are the effects of rheumatoid arthritis?

What are the effects of rheumatoid arthritis?


Inflammation is a natural process that your body normally uses to protect itself from harm. Inflammation is behind the pain and swelling you feel from:

  • Bumping your knee
  • An infection in your throat
  • Burning your hand while cooking
  • A sunburn
  • A paper cut
  • Etc. 

Joints affected by rheumatoid arthritis may become red, swollen and painful, and feel hot or warm to the touch: this is called inflammation. The joints also get stiff, especially in the first few hours after waking up.

RA symptoms tend to change over time, and appear differently in each person. People with rheumatoid arthritis will often suffer from a cycle of very painful episodes, called flares, followed by periods when symptoms disappear, called remissions.

Symptoms can vary: pain can be mild or extreme, periods of stiffness can be short or very long, and the time between flares can range from weeks to years.

If RA inflammation is left untreated, it can eventually lead to joint deformities and severe stiffness that make daily activities difficult. Fortunately, there are many ways to treat rheumatoid arthritis and prevent damage before it happens.

Which body parts are affected?

Rheumatoid arthritis tends to affect smaller joints first, like the joints that link your fingers to your hands or your toes to your feet.

It’s common for joints in the hands and feet to be involved, and for joints to feel stiffness in the morning that lasts for several hours.

There is an important telltale sign that the joint inflammation is caused by RA: the joints are affected in a symmetrical way, meaning the same joints on both sides of the body are affected (e.g. both wrists and/or both thumbs).

Joints commonly affected by RA:

  • Knuckles
  • Wrists
  • Elbows
  • Shoulders
  • Ankles
  • Knees
  • Hips

In some cases, RA may also affect the eyes, and linings around the heart and lungs.

Are there other symptoms?

The inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis sometimes also causes tingling in the fingers and flu-like symptoms:

  • Feeling extremely tired
  • Feeling generally ill
  • Having a low fever
  • Losing your appetite
  • Losing weight