Recognizing Symptoms of Arthritis

There are more than 100 different types of arthritis, and symptoms vary widely between types of arthritis disease. For example, while one of the primary symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis is pain, stiffness, and swelling in joints, Sjögren's syndrome is characterized by very dry eyes and mouth, and adult-onset Stills disease is likely to cause high, spiking fevers and a faint, salmon-coloured rash.

For many types of arthritis, however, there are common signs (things your doctor can see, like a swollen joint) and symptoms (things patients feel, like fatigue, pain, etc.) that indicate some form of arthritis. While these may differ among the types of arthritis disease, there are several which are commonly associated with inflammatory arthritis and osteoarthritis. For a full list of disease-specific signs and symptoms, see our disease spotlights.

The most common joints affected by osteoarthritis are those in the hands, knees, hips, spine, and feet. It is not common for osteoarthritis to affect joints such as elbows, jaw, shoulders or wrists, unless there has been a past injury or strain.

Common symptoms of osteoarthritis include:
  • Pain and stiffness in a joint or in several joints
  • Morning stiffness lasting no longer than 30 minutes
  • Early symptoms of OA are intermittent pain with strenuous activity.
  • Joint crepitus (grinding)
  • Bone enlargement
  • Loss of movement
  • Later symptoms of OA are frequent pain with minimal activity or at rest.

Inflammatory Arthritis:
This category includes more than 90 different types of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, lupus, ankylosing spondylitis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis and many more.

While there are specific signs and symptoms that may be associated with various types of inflammatory arthritis and that are important to know for your own disease diagnosis, several symptoms are common among many different types of inflammatory arthritis disease. These include:
  • Morning stiffness in and around the joints lasting at least one hour
  • Pain and stiffness in more than one joint area
  • Pain and stiffness that worsens with immobility or first thing in the morning
  • Pain and stiffness that improves with physical activity
  • Reduced range of motion
  • Joint swelling

What to do
If you recognize these symptoms, it is important to speak with your doctor about what you are experiencing. Early diagnosis and treatment are vitally important when dealing with almost every type of arthritis. A correct diagnosis is the first step a person with arthritis can make towards taking control of their disease and taking action in building a treatment plan.

Koehn et al. (2002). Rheumatoid Arthritis: Plan to Win. Oxford Press.

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