17 Uncommon Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

What are the unusual symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)? You might have heard people complain about pain in the joints and surrounding tissues. This condition usually occurs in adults between the ages of 40 and 60. 

Are you one of those facing this health issue? If so, have you realized what this abnormal condition in our system states? Why does this occur? This health condition is called “Arthritis.” Let us discuss Arthritis, its types, and its occurrence.

1. What is Arthritis? 

Arthritis is a health condition resulting in inflammation and swelling of joints, stiffness, a feeling of tenderness, and pain around tissues. It keeps on worsening as age increases. The common symptoms of Arthritis are intense chronic pain, swollen joints and joint pain, and stiffness in one or more joints.

2. Types of Arthritis

The different types of Arthritis amongst people are Osteoarthritis (OA), Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), Psoriatic Arthritis (PA), Juvenile Arthritis (JA), Reactive Arthritis, Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), Gout, and Fibromyalgia. Out of these, the common ones are Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Osteoarthritis (OA) affects the cartilage lining in the joints. Cartilage is a tissue lining the surface ends of bones. This lining starts to become thin and rough and breaks down, giving pain, swelling, and stiffness to the joints. It usually affects the spine, knees, hips, and knees.

Juveline Arthritis (JA) or Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) is a Childhood Arthritis that occurs in children under 16. It causes physical damage to the joints, resulting in disability.

Gout is an inflammation-type painful Arthritis that affects one specific joint at a time. (E.g., the big toe in the foot). The person experiences acute pain and redness in the joints.

Unusual Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
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  1. Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS) is a type of Arthritis affecting the lower spine. It starts with the hips, lower back, pelvis, neck, and other bigger joints.
  2. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) or Lupus is an autoimmune disease type of Arthritis affecting different parts of the body like joints, kidneys, skin, brain, lungs, heart, and blood cells.
  3. Psoriatic Arthritis (PA) is a chronic inflammation of joints and skin resulting in joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. It is a condition occurring with psoriasis.
  4. Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition with widespread pain in the whole body resulting in fatigue, problems with sleep, mental and emotional stress, and mood issues.
  5. Reactive Arthritis, formerly named “Reiter’s Syndrome,” is an inflammation Arthritis due to infection resulting in pain and swelling in the knees, ankles, and feet.

3. Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)? What are the unusual symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)? Now we have learned about the basic types of Arthritis, let us jump into our main topic on Rheumatoid Arthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis Signs and Symptoms.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease type of Arthritis where the body on itself produces antibodies to attack our body’s joints and healthy cells. These antibodies may induce extensive joint inflammation of other body parts and cell injury.

Unusual Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
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The disease affects organs like the hands (wrist), eyes, knees, lungs, heart, digestive and immune system, and other skin problems. This condition further results in the joints getting inflamed, thickened, swelling, and disfigured.

3.1. Facts on Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

A statistical report from PubMed Central of the National Library of Medicine (NIH) states that about 1.3 million adults suffer from RA symptoms, constituting 0.6% to 1% of the population.

Arthritis Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims to prevent, control, and treat RA, states that Rheumatoid Arthritis patients constitute 0.5% to 1% in developed nations. Although RA symptoms can occur irrespective of age, it mainly occurs in females between 30 and 50.

What are the unusual symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis? The exact causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis are unknown, but it is believed that it may be caused by a combination of various external and genetic factors.

4. Unusual Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

What are the unusual symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis? Since we have learned about the basic types of Arthritis, let’s jump into our main topic on Rheumatoid Arthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis Signs and Symptoms.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Signs & Symptoms (& Associated Complications)

4.1. Problems with Hearing

Hearing problems are one of the unusual symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis. Research from PubMed Central of the National Library of Medicine (NIH) states that hearing impairment can have links to people with RA who report ear problems with hearing, which include hearing loss or Tinnitus.

Tinnitus refers to the internal sounds within the body called “ringing in the ears.” The sound seems like buzzing, humming, grinding, or whistling inside the ears. These hearing problems typically occur in older adults who could have a record of Rheumatic diseases or Arthritis.

The other possibilities that contribute to hearing loss and ear problems are as follows:

  • RA Inflammation damages the small bones and joints in the ear, resulting in hearing loss.

  • The development of Rheumatoid Nodules inside the ear can result in hearing loss.

  • According to Arthritis Foundation, certain RA medications utilized to treat RA, like Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) or AntiRheumatic Drugs like Methotrexate Hydroxychloroquine, Aspirin may lessen the blood flow to Cochlea (spiral bone in the inner ear involved in hearing) and result in hearing loss.

4.2. Lung Problems

Arthritis Foundation reports that RA and lung disease are interconnected, and people with RA can experience lung complications. The possible lung complications are as follows:

  • Pulmonary (Lung) Nodules – refer to abnormal growth or clumps of cells in the lungs.

  • Pleural Effusion – refers to the fluid or water in the lungs, the pleural space around the lung.

  • Bronchiectasis/Bronchiolitis – The airways of the lungs widen, leading to the formation of mucus and being prone to lung infection.

  • Pleurisy – inflammation of the layers that cover the lungs (pleura) and results in chest pains.

  • Interstitial Lung Disease (ILD) – It refers to the category of diseases that cause fibrosis or lung scarring (lung stiffness resulting in difficulty breathing).

  • Pericarditis – Inflammation and swelling in the tissue lining surrounding the chest and heart.

4.3. Numbness and Tingling in Feet and Hands

Numbness and tingling are the unusual symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis. Rheumatoid Arthritis might contribute to impaired or damaged nerve that causes numbness or tingling in the feet, hands, or other parts of the body. The common nerve conditions are as follows:

4.3.1. Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral Neuropathy is a nerve injury to the peripheral nervous system that causes weakness, numbness, and tingling in the feet. The nerves of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) are damaged.

A 2019 study from PubMed Central of the National Library of Medicine (NIH) shows that 75% of patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis had Peripheral Neuropathy.

4.3.2. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a nerve injury that causes numbness, weakness, and tingling in the hands and fingers. The median nerve from the forearm to the palm of the hands gets compressed, causing inflammation and pain in the wrist.

4.4. Snoring

One of the common RA symptoms is snoring and sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where the breathing stops and starts repetitively with interruptions while sleeping, i.e., a person experiences frequent breathing pauses and gasping during sleep. It results in loud snoring and sleepiness during the day.

Unusual Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
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Snoring occurs as the airways get blocked during sleep. The most common type of sleep apnea is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), where the airway passage in your throat gets narrowed, and the breathing stops momentarily.

A study from PubMed of the National Library of Medicine (NIH) shows that people with RA experienced 38% more fatigue than those without RA. Sleep apnea can produce headaches and fatigue as breathing interruptions lessen the oxygen intake at night.

4.5. Rheumatoid Vasculitis

Rheumatoid Vasculitis is a rare disease, a critical complication, and one of the unusual symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis. It occurs when RA inflammation affects blood vessels, where they get narrowed and inflamed and restrict blood flow to the heart and other body parts.

Vasculitis due to RA affects organs like skin, nerves, hands, fingers, and toes, and the autoimmune disease progresses to other organs gradually.

4.6. Skin Problems

Skin problems are one of the unusual symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis. The common skin problems are bruises, clusters, skin rashes, dryness, itches, nodules, hives, bumps, discoloration, and patches.

Vasculitis, as discussed above, causes inflammation of blood vessels with reduced blood flow to the body organs, which causes rashes on the skin. A skin rash appears as sores, clusters, hives, and bumps in purple, pink, or dark red, especially on the lower part of the legs, making it burning, itchy and painful.

Unusual Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
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Rheumatoid Nodules, as seen above, are small lumps or bumps that develop under the layer of skin, mostly near joints. In a 2013 report from PubMed Central of the National Library of Medicine (NIH), about 20% of people with RA had nodule formation.

Raynaud Syndrome is another skin problem where the blood vessels in the toes and fingers get narrowed and show discoloration to blue or white with cold exposures.

Bruises are one of the common symptoms because of Rheumatoid Arthritis. Due to the side effects of RA drugs, a person experiences a low platelet count with extreme bleeding and bruises.

A 2019 analysis from PubMed of the National Library of Medicine (NIH) reports that people with RA taking certain medications like Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF) inhibitors have a higher risk of Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer.

Certain medications for RA, like Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), methotrexate, antibiotics, and antidepressants, can result in complications like increased sensitivity of skin exposed to sunlight.

4.7. Dry Mouth and Eyes

One of the unusual symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis is dry mouth and eyes, a symptom called Sjogren’s Syndrome. It is a disease activity of the immune system that causes dryness in the mouth and eyes.

Dry eyes result due to inflammation of the eye’s tear glands. Dry mouth results due to salivary gland inflammation, thereby decreasing saliva production. A person having problems with a dry mouth can also face dental cavities.

4.8. Eye Problems

Red eyes or redness in the eyes can be a symptom of Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms result in eye problems like irritation, pain, inflammation, itchy eyes, dryness in the eyes, blurred vision, a feeling of something stuck in the eyes, blank spots in the visual field, rainbow-coloured disc appearance when looking at lights, sensitivity to light, faulty night vision, faded colours, and vision loss.

Unusual Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
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When RA symptoms last longer, they may result in complicated eye problems like Dry Eye Syndrome (Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca [KCS]), Red Eyes (Episcleritis), the white part of the eye getting swollen and painful (Scleritis), inflammation or ulcer in the cornea (Keratitis), or inflammation inside the eyes (Uveitis).

4.9. Gum Disease

Gum disease is again one of the unusual symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis. Inflammation of the gums, called Gingivitis, and Periodontitis linked to Rheumatoid Arthritis results in damage to the gums and loss of teeth, causing gum disease and other worsening RA symptoms.

Gum disease occurs due to improper oral health care, like not brushing or flossing the teeth, which makes the gums inflamed, swollen, painful, and prone to bleeding.

A BMJ Journals study found that people with RA had moderate Periodontitis than those who didn’t face this condition.

4.10. Chronic Cough

One of the unusual symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis is chronic cough. Chronic cough is an abnormal condition caused by lung problems. Lung Scarring results in chronic dry cough, where frequent coughing makes the body tired and causes difficulty sleeping, dizziness, and throat and chest pain.

Unusual Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
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4.11. Weight Loss

Weight loss is one side effect of RA inflammation and one of the unusual symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis. As Rheumatoid Arthritis weakens the joints, it results in loss of muscle weight and impacts metabolism. Lack of movement due to joint pain reduces the appetite and significantly results in weight loss.

4.12. Breathing Problems and Chest Pain

It is one of the unusual problems of Rheumatoid Arthritis. Problems with breathing result from chronic inflammation in the lungs, which may result in shortness of breath, chest pain, and constant coughing.

4.13. Amplified Body Pain

Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms can also result in intensified pain throughout the body. This condition has an alternate term, “Amplified Musculoskeletal Pain Syndrome (AMPS).” Here, the person experiences intense pain all over the body.

Unusual Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
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4.14. Sleep Problems

Broken sleep patterns are one of the primary symptoms in people with RA pain. It results in frequent sleep disturbances, causing fatigue. The Arthritis Foundation outlines that over 80% of people face fatigue because of sleep problems with RA pain.

Unusual Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
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A 2014 study from the Journal of Rheumatology reports that symptoms of RA pain reduce sleep quality in people. Since Rheumatoid Arthritis is a chronic disease, people with it experience trouble sleeping.

4.15. Surged Body Fat and Shrinked Muscle Mass

Inflammation due to Rheumatoid Arthritis lessens muscle activity due to joint pain that shoots up the body fat and lowers muscle mass.

This transition poses a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases and a higher Fat-to-Lean Mass (Muscle) Ratio. Excessive fat in the body releases more inflammatory proteins, worsening joint inflammation.

2018 case study from Plos One journal states that early Arthritis patients faced muscle mass loss 4 to 5 times more than those without RA symptoms, indicating a comparison between disease activity and unfavourable body composition of fats.

4.16. Digestion or Gastrointestinal Problems

According to the Arthritis Foundation, people with RA are 70% expected to develop stomach problems affecting the GastroIntestinal (GI) Tract.

Problems of the digestive tract are Cirrhosis, Pancreatitis, Liver Dysfunction, or Enlarged Liver. It may occur due to RA medications, infections apace with RA, or other autoimmune issues.

Unusual Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
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A study from Wiley Online Library showed that people with RA symptoms suffered from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) with associated symptoms like bloating and nausea.

4.17. Cognitive and Emotional Mental Health Problems

RA symptoms can cause problems associated with mood, mental health, and other emotional disturbances. Chronic inflammation due to RA can result in chronic illness of the mind, causing depression and anxiety, affecting mood, behaviour, and thoughts.

Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis can cause cognitive issues like psychosis, lack of concentration, memory loss, or brain-related problems like Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease.

A report from PubMed Central under the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care shows that cognitive dysfunction was prevalent in Rheumatoid Arthritis patients in the range of 38-71%.

5. Foods to include and exclude with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA):

The best foods to eat while facing RA symptoms are as follows:

  • Veggies and Fruits – Fruits and vegetables are high in minerals and antioxidants that protect the body against inflammation.

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Foods rich in Omega-3s, like fish, plant seeds, and nuts, help reduce inflammation.

  • Whole grains – Grains are rich in nutrients like fibre that help combat RA inflammation.

  • Lean Protein Foods – Foods like plain Greek yogurt, peas, lentils, beans, beef, poultry, and white fish help restore tissue damage and sustain muscle weight.

  • Low-fat Dairy Products – Low-fat products like skimmed milk, yogurt, or cottage cheese provide essential nutrients for bone health and hinder inflammation.

Why Do Plant-Based Diets Help Rheumatoid Arthritis?

The foods to avoid while facing RA symptoms are as follows:

  • Refined Carbs – Consuming processed foods, pastries, pasta, and white bread can worsen inflammation as they contain refined sugar and processed grains.

  • Trans-Fats – Trans fatty acids like fried foods, doughnuts, margarine, microwave popcorn, and frozen pizza lower good cholesterol, causing a higher risk of heart disease and increasing inflammation.

  • Saturated Fats – Unhealthy saturated fats are animal-based products like poultry, beef, pork, and other foods like butter, coconut oil, palm oil, red meat, and cheese that trigger inflammation.

  • Alcohol and related Foods – Consuming Alcohol triggers RA symptoms and inflammation.

  • Nightshade Veggies – Nightshade veggies are a category of plants that contain Alkaloids. These are tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers, red spices, and more. Such veggies aggravate inflammation.

Fasting for Rheumatoid Arthritis

6. Diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis

How can the unusual symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) be diagnosed? RA exhibits the same symptoms of joint pain, tenderness, inflammation, and swelling on both body sides. To diagnose RA, doctors perform several tests and physical exams to check for joint swelling and muscle strength.

Blood tests reveal results on several inflammatory markers that depict elevated levels of Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR or sed rate), Rheumatoid Factor, Anti-cyclic Citrullinated Peptide (anti-CCP) antibodies, and C-Reactive Protein (CRP) levels.

Unusual Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
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Imaging tests include X-rays that track the progress of Rheumatoid Arthritis in joints over time to check for bone damage and joint space narrowing. Doctors also conduct MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans and Ultrasound tests to check the severity of RA in the body.

7. Medical Advice and Treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

There is no absolute cure for any unusual symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis. The only standard approach to treating RA is through professional medical advice, therapies, and medications.

NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs) like Ibuprofen and Naproxen Sodium help alleviate pain and inflammation.

Physicians use Steroids like Glucocorticoids for joint swelling and inflammation in the initial stage of RA treatment for three months. Corticosteroids, like Prednisone, help reduce inflammation and joint pain.

DMARDs (Disease-Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs) like Methotrexate, Leflunomide, Hydroxychloroquine, and Sulfasalazine protect the joints and tissues from damage and slow down the Rheumatoid Arthritis progression in the body.

Biologics, also called Biologic Response Modifiers, belong to the new category of DMARDs, which include Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF) inhibitors and Janus Kinase (JAK) inhibitors that help to lessen RA inflammation.

Physical Therapy exercises from a therapist will enable joint movement and keep them flexible. The therapist may also suggest doing daily tasks to pick specific objects that may help in effortless joint movements in hands, fingers, or forearms.

Unusual Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
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Surgery could be the last option that doctors may consider if medications or therapies fail to show desired results. The surgery for RA undergoes procedures as follows:

  • Synovectomy – Surgical process removing the inflamed joint lining to improve flexibility and lessen pain.

  • Tendon Repair – Surgical process of repairing tendons that loosen near the joints muscle due to inflammation and swelling.

  • Joint Fusion – Fusing joints using surgery helps in joint realignment, relieving pain.

  • Joint Replacement – In joint replacement, the surgeon removes affected and damaged joints and attaches a prosthetic device, an artificial implant of metal or plastic.

Suggested Reading: Differences between Osteo and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Pomegranate: A Natural Treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis

8. Final Note:

What are the unusual symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)? Since RA is a chronic inflammatory disease, people can experience its unusual symptoms throughout life. If you are facing any uncommon conditions of RA, consult a doctor to avoid worsening symptoms.

All the more, choosing healthy lifestyle practices like eating a nutrition-rich diet, exercising, maintaining a healthy body weight, and quitting alcohol and smoking habits can eliminate the risk of developing Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).

Unusual Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Frequently asked questions:

Q. Can I live a normal life with rheumatoid arthritis?
  • Many people can live a healthy, active life with RA. For example, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) have become an effective and widely available medication for people with RA. These drugs work by suppressing the immune system and minimizing its damage to joint tissue.
Q. What is the last stage of rheumatoid?
  • Stage IV: Bony Ankylosis: The pain goes away at this stage, but so does the ability to move. The joint is gone, so you can’t bend or flex the area. Once someone has stage IV rheumatoid arthritis, they may have trouble doing the tasks and hobbies that they normally would.
Q. Can you fully recover from rheumatoid arthritis?
  • No, rheumatoid arthritis doesn’t go away. It’s a condition you’ll have for the rest of your life. But you may have periods where you don’t notice symptoms. These times of feeling better (remission) may come and go.

Last Updated on by Sathi Chakraborty, MSc Biology

Authors

bhagyasrinivas
Sathi Chakraborty, MSc Biology

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