Rheumatoid arthritis mainly 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 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 worse in the morning or after a period of inactivity.
Morning stiffness that is a symptom of another type of arthritis, called osteoarthritis, usually wears off within 30 minutes of getting up, but morning stiffness in rheumatoid arthritis 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.
As well as problems affecting the joints, some people with rheumatoid arthritis have more general symptoms, such as:
- tiredness and a lack of energy
- a high temperature
- a poor appetite
- weight loss
The inflammation that's part of rheumatoid arthritis can also sometimes cause problems in other areas of the body, such as:
- dry eyes – if the eyes are affected
- chest pain – if the heart or lungs are affected
Find out more about the complications of rheumatoid arthritis.