Arthritis: Signs and Symptoms

Arthritis: Signs and Symptoms


Arthritis is inflammation of your joints, which are places in your body where two bones meet. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis, and the symptoms you develop vary depending on the type of arthritis you have. Typically, arthritis causes discomfort, stiffness, or swelling in your joints.

If you have arthritis, you may experience times of flares and remission—when your symptoms go through cycles of worsening and improving. Or your symptoms may start mildly and worsen over time.

No matter the type of arthritis, symptoms center around joint pain or stiffness. You may notice a limited ability to move that affected joint. You may also experience redness, warmth, and swelling in your joints.

There are five major types of arthritis. They have the same overarching symptom of joint pain and stiffness, but the affected joints and other symptoms may differ.

Osteoarthritis Symptoms

Osteoarthritis is a disease that usually affects the hands, hips, and knees. 

Similarly to other types of arthritis, it can cause:

  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Loss of movement
  • Instability when walking

Osteoarthritis symptoms are usually worse in the morning or after standing up after sitting for a while. The pain usually improves within 30 minutes of movement. 

Some people with osteoarthritis may develop cysts (fluid-filled pockets) behind the knee. The cysts develop after being triggered by swelling in the knee from the arthritis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease. When you have an autoimmune disease, your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own healthy tissue. With RA, the immune system attack can cause bone erosion and cartilage changes. These changes can lead to symptoms of joint stiffness that lasts longer than 30 minutes and joint pain whether you are moving or at rest.

With RA, your joints may also feel tender and warm to the touch. You may also notice swelling. While RA can affect any joint, it usually occurs in your wrist, hands, and feet. When RA symptoms develop, you will notice them in the same joint on both sides of the body.

You may also notice nodules on the joint. These are round, hardened lumps that may limit the range of motion in your joint. They may also push your joints out of alignment.

Besides symptoms felt in your joints, rheumatoid arthritis can also cause symptoms like:

  • Tiredness
  • Low energy
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite

If left untreated, RA can lead to symptoms that affect other organs or systems, including the eyes, blood, and nerves. For example, RA may cause scarring on the lungs that makes it hard to breathe.

Psoriatic Arthritis Symptoms

Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is an inflammatory disease that affects your joints and skin.

The major joints affected by PsA are in the spine, legs, and arms. You may have swelling and discomfort in these areas.

Psoriatic arthritis also causes changes to your skin, similar to psoriasis. You may have raised red areas of skin called plaques. These areas may be dry and itchy. They’re usually found on your elbows or knees. PsA can also affect your nails.

Psoriatic arthritis is a complex disease that causes widespread symptoms. Besides the changes to your joints and skin, PsA may also cause:

  • Fatigue
  • Eye swelling
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Changes to your bowel movements

 Ankylosing Spondylitis  Symptoms

Ankylosing spondylitis is a widespread, long-term inflammatory disease. This type of arthritis primarily affects your spine and the large joints in your body, such as your shoulders and knees, as well as joints in your feet and hands.

You may feel pain or stiffness in the affected areas. Your joints may be the most stiff in the morning before you get moving for the day.

In some cases, ankylosing spondylitis can cause your spine to fuse in a hunched position. If this happens, your lung’s ability to expand within your ribs will be limited, making it hard for you to breathe. You may also lose overall mobility in your spine if it fuses together.

Your mood may also change. You may notice increased levels of anxiety or depression. Sometimes, these changes can affect your ability to sleep.

In rare cases, ankylosing spondylitis may cause swollen fingers. Some people may develop osteoporosis (weak and brittle bones) in the spine.

Gout Symptoms

Gout is a type of arthritis highly affected by diet. Alcohol, meat, seafood, and other foods rich in the chemical compound purine can trigger outbreaks.

The most commonly affected joint is your big toe, but the rest of your foot, ankle, and leg can also develop symptoms. You may have intense pain and swelling in these areas.

Some people may develop a tophus over the affected joint. A tophus is a hardened deposit under the skin. They usually develop over the fingers or on the ears.

Arthritis is not contagious. There are also no symptoms, like skin changes, that can spread from one person to another. Arthritis is primarily a disease that’s caused by a mix of genetic and environmental factors. While infections can sometimes trigger arthritis, you cannot give arthritis to another person.

Reach out to a healthcare provider if you think you may have symptoms of arthritis or your arthritis symptoms are worsening. 

Consider seeing a healthcare provider if you notice persistent joint or back pain, unexplained fatigue, or an unexpected rash.Your provider will discuss your symptoms and may run diagnostic tests.

In some cases, arthritis may be triggered by an infection. This type of arthritis is known as septic arthritis. Sepsis is a serious condition where your body overreacts to infection. Sepsis may cause joint inflammation. If you have an infection in one of your limbs—maybe after you’ve experienced some sort of injury to the body part—and can’t put weight on the affected limb, have a sudden fever, or have a limited range of motion, get immediate medical help.

Arthritis is inflammation of the joints that causes pain, discomfort, and stiffness to your joints. There are several types of arthritis, and symptoms can vary depending on what type you have. The type of arthritis you have can also dictate which areas of the body experience symptoms.

Arthritis symptoms may worsen over time, especially if you don’t receive proper treatment. If you notice new symptoms or worsening symptoms that affect your day-to-day life, consider seeking medical care so you can help relieve your joint pain and other arthritis symptoms.

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