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Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms You Shouldn't Ignore

By Amanda MacMillan
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by David Zelman, MD

You probably know all about the swelling and pain in your joints that comes and goes when you have rheumatoid arthritis. But don't neglect unusual symptoms that crop up on other parts of your body. They could be symptoms of complications or side effects of medicine you take.

Watch out for these 10 problems, and call your doctor if you spot them.

No. 1. Fever

Some RA drugs, such as biologics, affect the immune system, your body's defense against germs. You may not be able to fight off illnesses as easily as you used to.

That's why you need to be on the lookout for a fever. It could signal something serious, "either very active disease or an infection," says Catherine MacLean, MD, PhD, a rheumatologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery.

Infections can get worse quickly if you're taking medication that keeps your immune system from working, she says, so it's important to get treatment quickly.

No. 2. Breathing Trouble

If you have RA you're at a higher risk for scarring of the tissues in the lungs. So see your doctor right away if you have a cough that won't go away or you're short of breath during normal activities.

No. 3. Stomach Pain or Digestive Problems

Rheumatoid arthritis raises your chances of ulcers, stomach bleeding, and conditions such as colitis and diverticulitis. This may be because of inflammation from RA or because of side effects from medications like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroids.

You're also more likely to have constipation or diarrhea, which could be a warning sign that the amount of good and bad bacteria in your intestine is out of balance.

No. 4. Numbness

Your swollen joints can push against nerves, which can make you feel tingling in different parts of your body. Common spots for this to happen include your elbows, ankles, and wrists.

Inflammation of blood vessels, called vasculitis, can happen with RA and also cause numbness.

No. 5. Eye Problems

The inflammation that comes with your disease can damage parts of your eyes, including the sclera (the "whites" of your eyes) and the cornea (a thin protective layer).

"Eye pain or new eye redness that is getting worse should be evaluated immediately," MacLean says. Talk to your doctor about any vision changes that happen over a matter of days or weeks, too. 

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