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Symptom Stages of Rheumatoid Arthritis

The cause of the abnormal immune system response that develops in rheumatoid arthritis is not fully understood. Since cells of the immune system are free to travel all over the body through the bloodstream, symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis tend to be less localized than the symptoms of other types of joint diseases. Most often, pain and swelling will begin slowly in a single joint first and then gradually more and more joints will become painful and swollen. Uncommonly, the onset of rheumatoid arthritis may be abrupt, with pain and swelling suddenly striking many joints at once. The joint pain may cause the person to have significant trouble with normal movements.

The joint discomfort associated with rheumatoid arthritis is caused by swelling, heat, and pain—signs of inflammation—as the immune system is called into action. Inflammation also causes the sensation of stiffness within the joints, especially upon rising or after a period of inactivity. Stiffness lasting longer than 1 hour is a common symptom of rheumatoid arthritis.

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Understanding Rheumatoid Arthritis -- the Basics

Rheumatoid arthritis is a relatively common disorder affecting 1.3 million Americans. It usually begins between age 20 and 50, and women are affected three times as frequently as men.  Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is characterized by inflammation and pain in the hands -- especially in the joints of the fingers, as well as in the wrists, knees, ankles, elbows, shoulders, and feet. RA can affect almost any joint in the body, except the lower back. The duration and intensity of pain vary from person to...

Read the Understanding Rheumatoid Arthritis -- the Basics article > >

Another characteristic of autoimmune diseases is that they tend to be associated with what are called systemic symptoms, or symptoms that appear throughout the body. These symptoms include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, and malaise. These general symptoms of illness are due to the chemical messengers released by the immune cells when they are activated.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Nancy Ann Shadick, MD, MPH - Internal Medicine, Rheumatology
Last Revised June 5, 2012

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: June 05, 2012
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.

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