The word arthritis describes an inflammation of the joints. There are over 100 different types of arthritis, and they can be categorized into two major groups; rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
Both cause pain, stiffness, and swelling of the joints, but there are several key differences between the two that we will discuss later in this article.
It’s estimated that around 20 million people in the United States suffer from some form of arthritis and most are over 60 years old, though it can affect people of all ages with varying severity depending on the type and other factors like genetics or gender.
1) Pain In the Joints
If your joints hurt, don’t just suck it up. Unfortunately, most people do. Ignoring the pain in your joints can cause long-term problems and even lead to disability.
Check out these 10 symptoms, which could indicate arthritis or some other joint problem. If any of them apply to you, see a doctor.
Together you can figure out what’s going on and how to fix it so you can get back to living life pain-free.
1. Pain in your joints when you wake up in the morning;
2. Stiffness that lasts more than an hour after waking;
3. Pain while walking short distances;
4. Aching knees while standing for long periods;
5. Difficulty getting out of chairs or climbing stairs;
6. Waking up with swollen fingers or toes;
7. Persistent joint pain, especially if there is no clear cause like an injury or trauma.
One of our most common complaints during arthritis flare-ups is stiffness. The joints become stiff and our range of motion decreases, making it hard to get around or complete routine tasks like bathing or getting dressed.
For many people with arthritis, everyday activities are affected by stiffness. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to joint pain—you may have arthritis if it lasts for three days in a row.
Even if your pain doesn’t last that long, you should still see your doctor because there could be another cause for your discomfort.
Swelling is when your joints feel tight and achy. In cases where swelling worsens over time, it can deform your joints and bones.
The result? Painful arthritis. If your joints are swollen, they’re probably inflamed—which means there’s even more reason to see a doctor!
One way to tell if it’s serious: if you wake up with swollen or stiff joints in the morning, that’s cause for concern.
4) Skin Rashes
One symptom to look out for is skin rashes, which are most common in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
The rash may look like itchy bumps and red spots on different parts of your body, including your fingers and toes.
Painful joints, as well as swelling in both hands and feet, are other key signs to watch out for. In addition, muscle stiffness, fatigue, and fever accompanied by night sweats could also be a signal of arthritis.
5) Hot and Cold Spells
Many patients with rheumatoid arthritis have pain in their hands, fingers, wrists, and elbows. This is known as Raynaud’s syndrome.
Raynaud’s syndrome can be diagnosed when a person experiences pain or numbness in their hands when exposed to cold temperatures for a long period.
While extreme temperatures can aggravate or trigger Raynaud’s syndrome, most people with rheumatoid arthritis will experience these symptoms during colder months (such as November through February).
However, some individuals experience pain and discomfort during warmer weather.
6) Unintentional Weight Loss
You might not think much about your weight, but if it starts to go down without any changes to your diet or exercise routine, there’s a chance you could be suffering from arthritis.
If someone is losing weight for no reason, they should get it checked out, says Dr. Brian Prewitt, medical director at Banner Health Center for Sports Medicine in Phoenix and an official spokesperson for The American College of Sports Medicine.
He notes certain forms of arthritis can cause people to lose their appetite or have trouble chewing and swallowing food; he also points out that knee and hip problems can limit activity levels—all signs may point to some kind of arthritic condition.
7) General Weakness
If you’re feeling tired and weaker than usual, see your doctor. And if it turns out to be arthritis, there’s good news: Many types can be treated with medication or physical therapy.
You might also want to ask your doctor about a prescription cream like diclofenac gel (Voltaren) or naproxen ointment (Aleve), which provide quick relief for pain and swelling in joints.
As always, talk to your doctor before taking any type of medication.
8) Impaired Movement
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) causes chronic pain and stiffness. While RA is known to attack cartilage—which cushions joints—in reality, RA weakens not only your joints but also tendons, ligaments, muscles, and bones.
As a result, bones can become deformed; muscles may waste away; tendons can become inflamed and stiff, and ligaments may tear.
The average life expectancy for people with RA is five to 10 years less than those without it. You should seek medical treatment immediately if you notice any of these 10 red flags associated with RA.
Swelling in Your Hands or Feet: Swelling in hands or feet is an early sign of RA. It’s important to note that swelling could be caused by other conditions such as fluid retention, so make sure you see your doctor if you’re concerned about swelling in either area.
If they suspect RA, they’ll likely do blood tests and X-rays on affected areas to confirm their suspicions before beginning treatment.
9) Decreased Physical Activity
Even if your arthritis doesn’t keep you from doing activities, you may notice a drop in how much energy you have for physical activity as your arthritis worsens.
You may be tempted to sit all day when your body isn’t feeling up to it, but sitting for long periods can lead to weight gain and other health problems—which makes treating arthritis more difficult.
If your pain is moderate or severe, discuss different ways to stay active with your doctor or physical therapist.
Simple exercises like tai chi, yoga, swimming, and walking can help preserve flexibility and boost strength.
And remember: Exercise isn’t just good for fighting arthritis; it also improves sleep quality and boosts mood.
10) Difficulty Sleeping
Sleeplessness is a common symptom associated with arthritis pain, but what many people fail to recognize is how sleep loss can exacerbate their arthritis.
Sleep-deprived individuals have higher levels of stress hormones and lower pain thresholds, both issues which can make managing an arthritic condition more difficult.
Chronic sleep loss has also been linked to depression, memory problems, and cognitive decline. To ensure your sleep isn’t contributing to your arthritis symptoms, eliminate electronics from your bedroom (including clocks) and opt for blackout curtains if you live in a highly-trafficked neighborhood.