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10 RA Symptoms You Should Never Ignore

WebMD Feature
Reviewed by David Zelman, MD

If you have rheumatoid arthritis, you’re familiar with painful, swollen joints. There are other symptoms to watch for, though.

RA can affect any part of your body, from your eyes to your heart to your toes.

Also, newer drugs called biologics often have serious side effects. The big upside to these medications is that they prevent long-term joint damage, disability, and discomfort, says Harry D. Fischer, MD, chief of the division of rheumatology at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York. But biologics control the disease by slowing your immune system, and that can lead to infections.

Never ignore these 10 symptoms:

1. Shortness of breath. RA can affect your blood vessels and heart, so you’re more likely to have a heart attack. Lung infections are also common, so shortness of breath or chest pain could signal a lung or heart problem.

Seek medical help quickly if you feel winded or have chest pain, even if you've never had these issues before.

2. High fever. If you take biologics, you're at risk for infections with fevers over 101 F. Infection can spread through your body quickly and be hard to control.

“Your immune system cannot mount the same type of protection that someone else has,” says Tammi Shlotzhauer, MD, co-author of Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis. “Pay more attention to a fever, chill, or cough.”

Call your doctor early and remind the staff that you take drugs that suppress your immune system, she says. If the doctor can't see you within a day, go to urgent care or the ER.       

3. Stomach woes. Many people with RA take NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). They control pain but make you more likely to get bleeding stomach ulcers.

Tell your doctor if you have belly troubles with NSAIDs, heartburn, or stomach pain.

4. Numbness. If swollen, inflamed tissues press against a nerve in your hands or feet, you may feel numb or tingly. This can weaken your grip.

“In the wrists, it's like carpal-tunnel syndrome, but not due to repetitive motion,” Shlotzhauer says. Tell your doctor. Some RA drugs may help.

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