Symptoms and Diagnosis: RA Tells a Complex Story

This May, we are raising awareness about rheumatoid arthritis (RA) during Arthritis Awareness Month. RA tells a different story for everyone living with the autoimmune disease. Throughout the month, we will talk about 4 parts of the RA journey:

  • Symptoms and diagnosis
  • Treatment
  • Living with RA
  • Tips for coping

This article will focus on RA symptoms and getting a diagnosis. But first, take our quick poll below. What do you think was your first symptom of RA?

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The first RA symptom I experienced was ...

What is RA?

RA is a chronic (long-term) disease characterized by inflammation, joint pain, stiffness, and swelling. Inflammation also happens in other parts of the body such as the skin, lungs, nerves, heart, and blood vessels.1

Inflammation and joint damage happen when our immune system attacks healthy tissue. This immune system reaction makes RA an autoimmune disease. RA symptoms look different for each person. These symptoms can often change day by day or by the minute.1

Getting a diagnosis

For some, getting a diagnosis is not easy or straightforward. This is especially true for people with seronegative RA.

An RA diagnosis involves blood work, a physical exam, and an imaging test (like an MRI or x-ray). Unfortunately, the blood work of people with seronegative RA does not support an RA diagnosis. This is why x-rays are important to show joint damage caused by RA.1,2 Below, click the title to read personal stories of RA symptoms and getting a diagnosis.

Articles on RA symptoms and diagnosis

RA Symptoms: The Unusual and the Frustrating Editorial Team
"Those of us who have rheumatoid arthritis tend to be quite familiar with the laundry list of symptoms associated with this condition, like pain, joint swelling, and fatigue. Living with these symptoms every day can be frustrating. There are also a lot of other symptoms we experience that are not discussed as often, yet their impact can be significant."

We Need to Talk About RA Fatigue Editorial Team
"Why does RA fatigue happen? Believe it or not, many factors play a role in RA fatigue aside from increased RA disease activity. Other factors include depression, anemia, thyroid conditions, infections, medication side effects, lack of sleep, and low levels of vitamin D."

Is It RA Yet?
Nan Hart
"Among those of us who have been “officially” diagnosed with RA, there is always discussion about how long it took from the onset of symptoms to get that diagnosis as well as about what those early symptoms were. There seems to be a wide variety of responses to these age-old questions. I started with large joint pain in my hips, then shoulders, which is somewhat unusual. I did not start with hand and foot inflammation until several months into the onset."

The Pitfalls of Seronegative RA
Tamara Haag
"As many as one-third of people with RA are diagnosed with what is called seronegative rheumatoid arthritis. This means that rheumatoid factor is not present in an individual’s blood, yet additional indicators of RA/RD lead the rheumatologist to a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis."

Navigating a New Diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Amanda Osowski
"Based only on the information my doctor already had, she was nearly positive that I had been struggling with RA for a long time. Getting an accurate diagnosis was the first step to discovering a treatment plan to help with my RA symptoms – joint pain and swelling, stiffness, severe fatigue, and low-grade fevers, which increased with changes in the weather."

Wait … How Old Are You?
David Advent
"When I tell people that I have RA, I get 1 of 2 responses: 'Yeah, I have joint pain, too' or 'Arthritis? At your age? No way.' The former is an increasingly frustrating response because it rests in some level of ignorance, since RA is more than joint pain; it's a destructive disease that can damage your heart, lungs, kidneys, and more."

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