An Overview of Arthritis Symptoms

Arthritis symptoms can be vague and confusing, but they are important to recognize. It is incredibly common for people who have joint pain and other early symptoms to think that they have injured themselves. Often, they spend some time trying to self-treat the symptoms with over-the-counter treatment options. Hopefully they don't this for long. It's important to recognize early symptoms of arthritis and consult your doctor for an examination and assessment. The ultimate goal, of course, is to be properly diagnosed and treated, and the earlier you do this, the better you'll feel.

Typical arthritis symptoms in the hand and wrist.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "Arthritis includes more than 100 rheumatic diseases and conditions that affect joints, the tissues that surround the joint and other connective tissue." You should be aware that, not only are there are many types of arthritis, there is variability in which joints are affected and how severely. While certain symptoms are common to most, if not all types of arthritis, the differences are what distinguish the specific types of arthritis from one another.

Signs and Symptoms Common to Most Types of Arthritis

The signs and symptoms commonly associated with various types of arthritis and rheumatic diseases and those that usually occur with disease onset include:

Though early symptoms are the first indication of an arthritic condition, more information is needed to identify a specific type. Your doctor will also consider your medical history, results from a current physical examination, diagnostic tests (blood tests and imaging studies), and disease activity.

Know the Symptoms of Major Types of Arthritis

You may wonder why you need to know the major differences between the various types of arthritis. Many people feel that it's the job of their doctor to uncover pertinent information to formulate a diagnosis. We encourage you to think of yourself and your doctor as a team. An understanding of the primary characteristics associated with each type of arthritis will help you recognize what is and is not important to report to your doctor with regard to your own condition. In other words, your understanding of arthritis symptoms will allow you to provide your doctor with what he or she needs to know. Let's look at the symptoms and characteristics of the most prominent types of arthritis and rheumatic diseases.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune, inflammatory type of arthritis. While the joints are primarily affected by rheumatoid arthritis, there can be systemic effects (that is, the whole body—including organs—may be affected) as well. Other symptoms and characteristics include morning stiffness lasting more than an hour; involvement of the small bones of the hands and feet; extreme fatigue; rheumatoid nodules; and symmetrical joint involvement (e.g., both knees affected, not just one knee).

Osteoarthritis primarily affects the joints, and there are generally no systemic effects. The most common symptom associated with osteoarthritis is pain in the affected joint(s) after repeated use, which often worsens later in the day. The affected joints can swell, feel warm, and become stiff after prolonged inactivity. Osteoarthritis can occur with other forms of arthritis simultaneously. Bone spurs and bony enlargements are also characteristic of osteoarthritis.

Psoriatic arthritis is a type of arthritis associated with psoriasis (a skin condition characterized by red, patchy, raised, or scaly areas) and chronic joint symptoms. The symptoms of psoriasis and joint inflammation often develop separately. Symptoms associated with psoriatic arthritis vary in how they occur (symmetrical or asymmetrical pattern) and which joints are affected. Any joint in the body can be affected. When psoriasis causes pitting and thickened or discolored fingernails, the joints nearest the fingertips are likely to become arthritic.

Ankylosing spondylitis is commonly associated with inflammation that involves the spine and sacroiliac joints. The earliest symptoms are often chronic pain and stiffness in the lower back region and hips. Typical ankylosing spondylitis pain in the back worsens following rest or inactivity. As symptoms of pain and stiffness progress up the spine to the neck, possibly including the rib cage area, bones may fuse.

Lupus can affect the joints, nervous system, skin, kidneys, lungs, heart, and other organs of the body. Lupus can be difficult to diagnose as it sometimes mimics other types of arthritis and rheumatic diseases. A butterfly-shaped rash appearing on the cheeks and over the bridge of the nose (malar rash) is just one of the distinguishing characteristics of lupus.

Gout is considered one of the most intensely painful types of arthritis. Gout is characterized by sudden onset of severe pain, tenderness, warmth, redness, and swelling from inflammation of the affected joint. Gout usually affects a single joint. The big toe is most often affected, though the knee, ankle, foot, hand, wrist, and elbow may be as well. The shoulders, hips, and spine may eventually be affected by gout, but rarely. Often, someone's first gout attack occurs at night.

These are just the major common types of arthritis. To learn more about other types of arthritis and rheumatic diseases, check out:

A Word From Verywell

You and your doctor will decide which of your symptoms match the diagnostic scheme of a particular type of arthritis. The process of identifying a specific type of arthritis is not always quick. Individual symptoms and symptom patterns can make diagnosing arthritis tricky. Awareness of early symptoms is advantageous. We're happy to provide you with the information you need to enhance your awareness and understanding.

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Article Sources
  • American College of Rheumatology. Diseases and Conditions. Accessed 07/20/16.
  • Kelley's Textbook of Rheumatology. Elsevier. Ninth edition.