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What does rheumatoid arthritis feel like?

Medically reviewed by Sally Chao, MD. Last updated on June 26, 2023.

Official answer


Having rheumatoid arthritis (RA) feels like having sore and stiff joints on both sides of your body. RA causes inflammation of more than one joint, and it usually affects the same joints on both sides of your body. RA mostly attacks the joints of your hands, feet, wrists and knees. RA can also make you feel tired, anxious or depressed.

RA is caused by an immune system disorder. If you have RA, your immune system mistakenly attacks your joints and other parts of your body. The immune system attack is called inflammation. You may feel pain, warmth, stiffness and tenderness in the affected joints.

Other symptoms you may feel include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Stiffness in the morning that can last 30 minutes or more

Less commonly, RA may attack other parts of your body, causing:

  • Eye dryness and eye irritation
  • Dryness in the mouth
  • Shortness of breath
  • Small lumps under the skin over joint areas

RA symptoms come and go. A low level of symptoms is called a remission. A high level is called a flare. You may feel a flare of symptoms for days or months.

Because RA is unpredictable, painful and exhausting, it may limit your ability to work or take part in social activities. It can make you feel frustrated, anxious, sad or depressed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly one in five people with arthritis develop anxiety or depression.

RA can be diagnosed by its signs and symptoms, along with blood testing and imaging studies. It is important to get diagnosed within 6 months of the first symptoms. Medications and self-care strategies can control RA at this point and prevent any permanent damage to your joints.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). July 2020. Available at: [Accessed May 25, 2021].
  2. Arthritis Foundation. Rheumatoid Arthritis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments and More. Available at: [Accessed May 25, 2021].
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Arthritis-Mental Health Connection. May 2021. Available at: [Accessed May 25, 2021].

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