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Early rheumatoid arthritis symptoms affect smaller joints first, including the joints that attach the fingers to the hands and the toes to the feet. The disease then spreads to the wrists, knees, ankles, elbows, hips and shoulders and can occur in the same joints on both sides of the body.
Symptoms include swollen, tender, warm joints, morning stiffness, rheumatoid nodules or bumps of tissue under the skin, fatigue, fever and weight loss. Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms may vary in severity from person to person and in some people the symptoms might come and go. There can be times of increased disease activity, called flares, alternating with periods of relative remission when the symptoms lessen or disappear. Over time, rheumatoid arthritis can cause joints to become deformed and shift out of place.
When a person has lived with rheumatoid arthritis for a long time, the emotional and physical stress also can worsen existing pain. The pain can be extremely debilitating, impacting quality of life and the ability to perform simple daily tasks such as holding a cup, writing or going up stairs. It can also lead to fatigue, general malaise or feeling unwell and even loss of appetite.