Fatigue. One of the most common symptoms of several autoimmune diseases is fatigue; RA is no exception. You may experience fatigue before any other symptoms become obvious. In a 2013 survey of more than 1,000 RA patients in the U.S. (conducted by HealthUnion), fatigue was exceeded only by hand/wrist pain as one of the most significant initial symptoms of RA in 56.3 percent and 69.6 percent of survey respondents, respectively.
People with RA often experience early morning stiffness that lasts for
hours. Stiffness may also occur throughout the day following periods of
stillness or inactivity. Osteoarthritis may also cause morning
stiffness; however, it will usually last 30 minutes or less.
Joint swelling and tenderness.
Mild inflammation which accompanies stiffness may cause joints to
appear larger than normal. The inflammation and swelling may also make
joints feel warm to the touch and appear red. However, joint swelling
may be so subtle as to make it difficult to identify, especially in
Joint pain. The pain of
early RA frequently involves specific joints of the hands or feet,
including the metacarpophalangeal joint (MCP) at the base of each
finger, the proximal interphalangeal joint (PIP), or the
metatarsophalangeal joint (MTP) at the base of each toe. Keep in mind,
however, that early RA pain is not limited to the hands and feet; larger
joints may be involved.
Decreased range of motion, numbness, or reduced grip strength. Inflammation can affect tendons and ligaments as well as synovium, restricting range of motion, fluidity of motion,
or physical function. Inflamed tendons may put pressure on nerves
leading to numbness or weakness. In the 2013 survey mentioned above,
39.9 percent of respondents included reduced grip strength as an early
symptom of RA, while 32.7 percent noted general weakness.
Often accompanied by general malaise, and in the presence of other
symptoms, a low-grade fever may be an early warning sign of RA or a
flare-up. However, a temperature above 100°F (38°C) is more likely to
signal some other illness or, possibly, an infection.
Abnormal laboratory results.
Studies show that anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP)
antibodies may be detected in healthy individuals years before the
clinical onset of RA. Most, but not all, people with RA test positive
for rheumatoid factor (RF). Nonspecific inflammatory markers, such as
erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR or sed rate) or C-reactive protein
(CRP), are often elevated, but test within normal ranges in about 60
percent of patients with early RA. Additional abnormal blood tests may
include high platelet count, low albumin, raised alkaline phosphatase (a
liver enzyme), or normocytic-normochromic anemia.
Firm lumps of tissue located under the skin.
Rheumatoid nodules tend to grow close to joints affected by RA, such as
elbows or wrists. They may be as small as a pea or grow to the size of a
walnut. Nodules can also form on vocal cords, or appear in the lungs, heart or other organs.
Extra-articular symptoms. Patients with early RA may develop vasculitis,
inflammation of the blood vessels, or serositis, which involves
inflammation of the tissue lining the lungs (pleura), heart
(pericardium), or inner lining of the abdomen (peritoneum). Pleurisy
(inflammation of the lungs) can cause chest pain when you breathe.
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What are Early Signs of Rheumatoid Arthritis?