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What are the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis?

Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis tend to come and go. You may have flare-ups when your symptoms become worse than normal. Common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • joint pain and swelling
  • stiffness
  • tiredness (fatigue), depression, irritability
  • anaemia
  • flu-like symptoms, such as feeling generally ill, feeling hot and sweating.

Less common symptoms include:

  • weight loss
  • inflammation in the eyes
  • rheumatoid nodules (fleshy lumps below the elbows or on hands and feet)
  • inflammation of other body parts, for example lungs and blood vessels and the membrane around your heart, but this is rare.

Rheumatoid arthritis varies from one person to another but it usually starts quite slowly. A few joints – often your fingers, wrists or the balls of your feet – become uncomfortable and may swell, often intermittently. You may also feel stiff when you wake up in the morning.

If you have painful, swollen joints and stiffness in the morning that lasts for longer than half an hour, you should see your doctor. Research shows that the sooner you start treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, the more effective it’s likely to be, so early diagnosis is important.

For about 1 in 5 of those with rheumatoid arthritis the condition develops very rapidly, with pain and swelling in a lot of joints, severe morning stiffness and great difficulty doing everyday tasks. You may feel tired, irritable or depressed even when the joint symptoms are fairly mild, and some people feel generally unwell.

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