Rheumatoid arthritis - Symptoms 

Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis 

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.

When to seek medical advice

You should see your GP if you think you have symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

There are a number of conditions that can cause problems such as joint pain and stiffness, so it's important to get a proper diagnosis.

Diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis as soon as possible is particularly important because early treatment can help stop the condition getting worse and reduce the risk of further problems such as joint damage.

Read more about diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis.

Page last reviewed: 04/08/2014

Next review due: 04/08/2016


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The 10 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

MrsKhan4567 said on 02 October 2013

Im 24 I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthiritis when I was 23 so not so long ago. I went to my GP because of tiredness and i had a awkward looking swollen finger.. He refered me to a specialist and after a series of scans and bood test i was diagnosed preety quickly..I was given follow up appointments quite quickily and I didnt have to wait for any appointments for a significant amount of time. The medication that I have been given hasnt improved the pains or inflammation..dont know what else I can do that would help me..my pain on my neck and shoulder kills and now I have pain on my ankle and pain on knee!

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TooSickTooYoung said on 05 August 2013

Hi AudreyP, I'm 18 years old and have been suffering with a multitude of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms since I was 15, after my blood tests came back negative I pushed my GP to refer me to a specialist called a rheumatologist, they can make an accurate diagnosis, it will take a long time to get an appointment though because there aren't many doctors in that field, I've so far been waiting 9 months but the sooner you request the referral the better, this is a progressive condition and the sooner diagnosed the sooner you can find a treatment that works for you personally. Best of luck as I know the pain can be unbearable x

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AudreyP said on 09 January 2013

Hi, I am 45 and have been suffering with degenerating discs for 8 years, no treatment possible as too many discs too bad to operate so I am left using crutches to walk as one leg is numb all of time and I use strong painkillers. I have now got swelling and pain in my knuckle joints, neck, shoulders and feet. My gp tested me for rheumatoid arthritis but test was negative. I accepted this but was sent for physio where the physio told me rheumatoid arthritis doesn't always show up on blood tests. Where do I go now?

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User733560 said on 17 December 2012

I have osteo arthritis and have had operations on both feet and I am due to have another 2.
I have also been refered to a rhumatoid specialist because of problems in my wrists fingers shoulders and knee's.
Most of my family are disabled with rhumatoid arthritis
I am hoping that this wont be the same for me but am bot holding my breathe.
I am finding it difficult to move some of my fingers and when my knee flares up the pain is that bad I cry out in pain.

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CooperMJ25 said on 07 November 2012

I'm 21 years old, and last October I went for blood test to see if I had arthritis, as I came back from a week in Spain and all my joints had seized, I found it painful to walk and genuinely move. My results came back negative and that was that, nothing else was looked into. And now my finger joints are swelling making it impossible to manoeuvre, pick things up and bend my fingers. What could this be as apparently its not arthritis, thank you

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animalfever16 said on 06 November 2012

I'm 16 years old and just been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, i have it in my shoulders ankles fingers arms and legs, this page has helped me quite a lot as it makes me understand what is going on slightly better, its painful nearly all the time so i am looking forward to seeing what can be done

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tracey mcculloch said on 19 September 2012

Hi i am 46 yrs old and have suffered from rheumatiod arthritis for 6 years, my pain started in my hands and feet but i wasnt diagnosed untill two years later, i am on quite a few tablets and i inject myself weekly this helps lower my immune system to help the tablets work, they are about to put me on another injection that will help keep me on the level, my arthritis has progressed really quickly over the last four years and there is nothing that can stop it, it is now in all my joints and i have had an operation on my right hand and elbow and having the same op on tues nxt week, you learn how to compensate for the fact that there are some things i can no longer do. i take a tablet for my tiredness it really does help me as before i took it i was almost falling asleep driving home from work. it is hard as from the outside you look normal and people dont understand that your in alot of pain. sometimes i feel quite alone and get down at times i know there are a lot of people a lot worse off than me i suppose it just helps to talk about it. i take 8 different lots of tablets 1 injection and another injection will be added to the list after my operation, i dont know weather this helps but i get vertigo when i am run down so it may help but ive never had double vision. probably the only place i dont get pain is my neck, so i cant help on that one,

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Streaky58 said on 29 January 2012

I am a 54 year old female. I was diagnosed with arthritis (in my neck area) last year, although had been suffering with neck/shoulder/lower back pain for many years prior to diagnosis. All the females on my maternal side (aunts and cousins) have some degree of degeneration of their spine and my mother (now deceased) had very severe osteoporosis. Unfortunately I recently decided to move the furniture around at home (from one room to another) and "cricked" my neck and lower back whilst in the process of doing so. That evening my condition got worse, I took myself to bed dosed up on Ibuprofen and paracetamol! However the following morning my neck, shoulders and back was stiff and sore, but more seriously, I had vertical double vision and a "swimmy" dizziness as I attempted to get out of bed. I thought the symptoms would wear off and so drove my car to work! (such a stupid thing to do) To cut a long story short, I ended up being taken to see my GP, I have had fasting bloods taken and am now awaiting an appointment at my local hospital for "tests". What I would like to know is, could the double vision have possibly been caused by me moving the heavy furniture and causing damage to my optic nerve by "trapping" it? What can I do to alleviate the pain and discomfort (apart from analgesia) in my neck and shoulders whilst waiting for a hospital appointment? My GP has not recommended anything other than analgesia, and also said my sight should return to normal after a while (that was four days ago) but the double vision and the throbbing pain behind my eyes is still causing me concern. Does anyone have any advice please?

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jodied1989 said on 17 October 2011

hello, have you been diagnosed with anything yet? I too suffer with my neck and top of back and shoulders. They all grind and are very painful. I got tested for rheumatoid arthritis and 0-11 was positive and my results came back as 11.3, still classed as borderline. I also suffer from extreme tiredness, all over pain and the general unwell feeling. I have been diagnosed with fibroymalgia. has your doctor ruled this out? It won't show up on blood tests.

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mymolly said on 17 August 2011

i am 44yrs old female. i have been suffering from swollen hands and fingers that are painful and i cannot move easily, i also are suffering from neck pains which also grinds and clicks as do my wrists and back pain that goes down my leg and also in my my hips. in all i am feeling unwell and tired my blood test seem ok and i am awaiting results from neck and spine . my parents suffer from athritus do u think this may be what i have?

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