Arthritis in its various forms impacts millions of people worldwide. The CDC predicts that nearly 80 million people will be diagnosed with some form of arthritis by 2040.
With so many people experiencing arthritis every day, you might think that the signs and symptoms are well-known. However, there are dozens of symptoms that people might not even realize are related to arthritis.
Nearly the entire body can be impacted by arthritis, especially certain forms of the condition. If you or a loved one are concerned that you might be dealing with arthritis, check for these concerns. This list might also help you determine whether something you are experiencing is related to your arthritis diagnosis – or if it is something else entirely.
Finger and Hand Pain
Pain in the hands and fingers are some of the most common complaints among those with most types of arthritis.
The hands have a high concentration of joints. Arthritis in its many forms primarily attacks the joints. This obviously makes the hands a prime target for pain, stiffness, and weakness.
The hands and fingers can experience sharp, shooting pain, dull aches, or burning sensations in turns. Everyone experiences arthritis pain differently, but the hands and fingers are almost always impacted.
Shoulder and Arm Pain
Arthritis pain can be present in almost any joint in the body. Some of the most common after the hands and fingers are the elbows and shoulders. This can cause pain throughout the arm and make using the arms for everyday actions difficult.
Think about how often you use the joints in your elbow and shoulder. Try going just a few hours without using either. You will quickly see how inflammation in these joints could cause debilitating stiffness and pain.
Pain in the Feet, Ankles, and Toes
Just as the hands and fingers are full of potentially-painful joints, so are the feet and toes. These joints – and those of the ankles are common targets for the pain and inflammation caused by arthritis. This can seriously disrupt everyday life.
Many types of arthritis can impact the feet, toes, and ankles. Regardless of which type you might be suffering from, finding ways to reduce time on the feet and elevating them during rest can help to reduce inflammation. Consider seeing a podiatrist if arthritis is causing recurring pain, swelling, and other symptoms in your feet.
Deformation of Joints
There are many ways that arthritis can deform the joints it impacts. Most people think of the gnarled fingers and hands that are pictured in Google searches for rheumatoid arthritis – but this is not the only way joints can become deformed by arthritis inflammation.
Gout – a type of arthritis that most often impacts feet and toes – causes growths called tophi under the skin around the affected joint. These growths are caused by a build-up of uric acid crystals. These crystals cause white or light-colored bumps that can sometimes be seen through the skin.
When nodules or knots form on or around inflamed joints, they can distend the skin covering them. This distension can lead to further deformation of joints.
Redness and Swelling in the Impacted Joints
Because of the deformation of joints with some types of arthritis, redness, swelling, and a feeling of warmth can result. Even arthritic joints that are not deformed or swollen can sometimes be red, hot, or tender.
While this swelling and redness is uncomfortable, it is usually temporary. Redness and swelling are generally acute inflammatory reactions. If you experience severe swelling or redness that does not abate after applying ice for 15-20 minutes, see a medical professional.
Injections and other treatments are available to reduce these symptoms and manage pain.
Numbness and Tingling
The inflammation and swelling caused by arthritis can cause further complications. One of the most common is numbness or tingling in the nearby fingers, toes, or other areas.
Frequently, those with arthritis can have swelling and irritation in the carpal tunnel. When this happens, the nearby nerve can become compressed. This causes tingling, numbness, and other unpleasant sensations in the surrounding area.
While this numbness is not generally dangerous itself, it can make using the fingers difficult. It can also prevent a person from feeling pain, itching, burning, or other irritation. While this might sound like a positive, that lack of feeling can lead to ignoring important signs of damage or injury to the area.
Those experiencing numbness in their extremities should check them frequently to ensure proper circulation.
Weakness in the Affected Joints
The joints impacted by arthritis are chronically inflamed. This can weaken them over time. Given the fact that joints are often weight-bearing or necessary for everyday tasks, this chronic irritation and pain can result in weakness as the joints begin to give out.
For example, an arthritic knee can cause a leg to go out from under someone while walking or make standing difficult.
When hands and fingers are the affected joints, grip strength, dexterity, and more are impacted. Since every form of arthritis has been shown to impact the hands this way, it is no wonder so many products geared toward arthritic patients are designed for the hands.
Wearing special gloves or hand supports designed for arthritis patients can improve function. These devices can help people live more productive and more comfortable lives and are widely available through medical suppliers and retail outlets alike.
Instability and Balance Issues
When you consider all the issues arthritis can cause with the feet, ankles, knees, and more, it is not surprising that many arthritis patients suffer from balance issues. The hip joints can also be attacked by arthritis, leading to an unsteady gait and difficult walking.
Muscle weakness in the affected areas surrounding the hips, knees, ankles, and feet can occur over time. This can further complicate walking, standing, and being steady on one’s feet.
Personally, I like to keep a collapsible cane with me when I go out. This helps me to have more freedom to enjoy everyday activities without worrying that my arthritic feet – or multiple sclerosis – will cause me to fall. I highly recommend mobility aids to anyone experiencing difficult walking or standing due to arthritis.
Decreased Range of Motion
The joints impacted by arthritis are often stiff and difficult to comfortably move. Some patients may find that arthritic joints feel “locked up” – especially early in the morning. This morning stiffness is common in most forms of arthritis and may affect specific joints or the entire body.
Those with osteoarthritis may feel or even hear audible cracking, popping, or grating sound when moving affected joints. This can be alarming, but is generally not harmful itself. The concern is that the cracking sound comes from a lack of lubrication in the joint.
Chest Pain, Cardiac Concerns, and Breathing Issues
One of the more serious and less well-known symptoms of arthritis is chest pain. This can be caused by various issues ranging from cardiovascular problems to concerns involving the lungs.
The inflammation caused by conditions like rheumatoid arthritis can result in continual pressure on the arteries. This causes narrowing or hardening of these arteries, which can reduce blood flow and raise blood pressure.
This can result in heart attacks, heart failure, and more.
A symptom called pleurisy is also possible with certain forms of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis. This condition is a chronic inflammation of the tissues lining the lungs and inside of the chest. It can cause serious pain when drawing and holding breath. This pain can make it difficult to breathe properly and discourage sufferers from doing so.
In turn, lower levels of blood oxygen may result.
Rough, Bumpy Skin
Some forms of arthritis can impact the skin.
You might think of psoriatic arthritis first, since this is the form associated with the well-known skin condition psoriasis. This condition can lead to recurrent rashes, scaly or rough patches on skin, and changes in the skin or nails that can become permanent.
However, there are many other ways that arthritis can impact the skin.
Children who experience arthritis – usually referred to as childhood arthritis – can lead to skin rashes. These are generally visible on the trunk, hands, and feet. It may also be accompanied by a fever. As a result, it is often mistaken for other childhood illnesses – until it recurs again and again.
Many forms of arthritis can cause hard bumps beneath the skin. These are often called nodules. They may be mistaken as other conditions, and should be examined by a dermatologist as well as your primary care physician.
The deformation of the joints caused by some forms of arthritis – including gout – can also cause changes in the skin around them.
It might sound strange that a condition characterized by joint pain would cause anemia. However, anemia is less of a standalone disease and more of an indicator that something is wrong in the body.
Rheumatoid arthritis and other forms of arthritis that cause severe inflammation can lead to anemia. When a person experiences a flare-up of inflammation, bone marrow may produce far fewer red blood cells. This will lead to anemia – and can become chronic if the inflammation continues.
Anemia is the name given to the insufficient production of red blood cells. Given the fact that red blood cells supply vital nutrients and oxygen to the entire body, this can be very dangerous if left untreated. When coupled with the potential for decreased oxygen levels caused by pleurisy, anemia brought on by arthritis can mean serious danger for those who are not being properly monitored.
Pain and stiffness can make sleep difficult. Likewise, those who are experiencing arthritis can struggle to find comfortable sleeping positions that don’t worsen their symptoms.
Comfortable sleep clothing, bedding, and a tranquil bedroom environment are great counters to these issues – but they can only do so much. Supplements and prescription medications can help some patients. Always be sure to discuss sleep issues with your healthcare provider before taking sedative or other medications, as some have serious side effects.
Many of the medications prescribed for arthritis pain and other symptoms can cause dry mouth. Technically speaking, this means that these medications can impede the function of your salivary glands.
Practically speaking, it can feel like your mouth is full of cotton gauze!
If you are experiencing dry mouth or difficulty swallowing as a result of medications prescribed for arthritis symptoms, speak to your doctor. They may be able to adjust dosages, prescribe additional medications to balance the side effects, or recommend OTC products to do the same.
While dry mouth might sound like no big deal, it can cause further complications. Declining dental health can result from chronic dry mouth. Be certain to check in with your dentist more frequently while dealing with dry mouth to prevent these problems from advancing.
Dry, Burning, or Itching Eyes
How can arthritis impact your eyes? If you are suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, the answer has everything to do with depleted collagen.
You already know that RA aggressively attacks the soft connective tissue at the meeting of joints. This tissue is known as collagen – and it is also a major component of your eyes.
Both the cornea and sclera are primarily composed of collagen. Because rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, the body cannot differentiate between potential threats and healthy tissue – or between the collagen of joints and that of the eyes. So, just as the joints are targeted by the inflammation and deterioration of RA, so are the eyes.
As collagen wears away, eyes will become uncomfortably dry. All of this can cause red, itching, or burning eyes. It can also eventually lead to imparied or lost vision as eyes are damaged.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, speak to an opthamologist promptly. They may be able to offer you medications or other treatments to preserve your vision and keep your eyes more comfortable.
Difficulty Eating and Loss of Appetite
Can you imagine eating when your mouth is too dry to chew and swallow food? What about eating with sore gums or an irritated tongue? These are just some of the issues that inflammatory arthritis can cause – and reasons why eating can be difficult when you have these conditions.
Many people find that the soft tissues of their mouth and the joint of their jaw are targets for the inflammation of arthritis. As a result, they must modify their eating habits or seek treatment to make eating less painful. Those with severe irritation in these areas may even need specially-made food that is easier to eat and requires less chewing or swallowing.
As with most other issues discussed here, the connection between arthritis and the digestive system comes down to inflammation. Soft tissues can be a target for inflammatory arthritis conditions. This can make everything from your stomach to your colon inflamed and impaired from proper function.
Digestive concerns can have other causes, as well. Many of the medications prescribed to manage arthritis can cause or further complicate these issues. If you are experiencing pain, impaired digestion, or difficulty eating your usual diet, speak to your doctor about a referral for specialist treatment.
Nutrition is a crucial building block for a healthy body; don’t let arthritis prevent you from getting the nutrition your body needs!
With so many digestive and dietary impacts, it is likely no wonder that arthritis sufferers end up dealing with weight gain or loss.
Some gain weight as a result of eating unhealthy food that is well-tolerated by their finicky stomachs. Others lose too much weight or lose it too quickly when they are unable to eat sufficient amounts. Still others find themselves on a rollercoaster ride of continual gain and loss.
Regardless, dramatic weight fluctuation can cause a host of other issues and is always an important thing to discuss with your doctor.
Cognitive concerns are common with rheumatoid and other forms of arthritis. The reasons are complicated and varied. From side effects of medications to fatigue from constant pain and inflammation, the causes of cognitive impairment and decline are as unique as the people suffering from arthritis themselves.
Because of these varied causes, treating cognitive issues and slowing decline has to have a multifaceted approach.
Taking note of behavioral patterns and experiences is a good first step. If you experience symptoms like confusion, forgetfulness, “brain fog”, and difficulty concentrating, track these over time. Once you notice patterns and possible triggers, you and your healthcare team can work toward solutions.
Just remember that arthritis is more than just joint pain – and experiencing cognitive issues as a result can happen to anyone.
Mental Health Concerns
Given all of the issues that arthritis can cause, it is no wonder it can also impact mental health. Depression is common among those with arthritis. Anxiety is common as well, since arthritis sufferers often worry about how they will cope with their symptoms.
All of this can sound pretty hopeless. Treatment – both for physical and mental symptoms – is crucial for better, healthier living. If you or your loved one are dealing with mental health concerns resulting from arthritis or other chronic health conditions, please seek guidance and support.
Please keep in mind that this blog is for information and entertainment purposes only. I am not a medical provider and cannot provide medical guidance or advice. My goal is to help you learn more about potential signs and symptoms of a serious medical condition – one that prompt and proper care for is important to living a healthier, happier life.