Skip to content
Font Size

Medical History and Physical Exam for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Your medical history and current medical condition help your doctor diagnose and/or evaluate rheumatoid arthritis. To assess your medical history, your doctor may ask:

  • How long symptoms have been present and whether there has been any pattern to them.
  • Whether there is a family history of arthritis.
  • Whether there are any other general symptoms (fatigue, weight loss, fever).
  • Whether there has been any recent or past injury to the affected joints.
  • How symptoms have affected your daily activities of living, driving, and working.

During the physical exam, your doctor may look at, feel, and move each joint and evaluate it for:

  • Swelling, warmth, and tenderness.
  • Presence of fluid on the joint.
  • Range of motion.
  • Joints that are affected.
  • The presence of bumps (rheumatoid nodules) over pressure points in the body.

During the exam, your doctor may also do a routine evaluation of the lungs, heart, liver, and kidneys.

Why It Is Done

The medical history and physical exam are routine parts of any medical evaluation.


Important findings in the physical exam include the:

  • Pattern of symptoms in the affected joints.
  • Presence of swelling or tenderness in the joints.

Rheumatoid arthritis often causes painful, swollen, "hot" joints and often affects the same joints on both sides of the body. Your doctor will note the location of affected joints, as well as other symptoms, to find out whether your condition meets the criteria for a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis.

What To Think About

Physical findings are an important part of the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis and are also used to evaluate the success of treatment.

Complete the medical test information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you prepare for this test.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerNancy Ann Shadick, MD, MPH - Internal Medicine, Rheumatology

Current as ofSeptember 9, 2014

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: September 09, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

Today on WebMD

rubbing hands
Avoid these 6 common mistakes.
mature couple exercising
Decrease pain, increase energy.
mature woman threading needle
How much do you know?
Swelling, fatigue, pain, and more.
Lucille Ball
Hand bones X-ray
prescription pills
Woman massaging her neck
woman roasting vegetables in oven
Woman rubbing shoulder
Working out with light weights