Patient Story: Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms

When Joint Symptoms Flare Up, It's Important to Listen

By Karina Lichtenstein

Reviewed by William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

"One morning, I woke up with severe joint pain and stiffness. When I got out of bed, I could barely move my fingers. I should have listened to my joint symptoms sooner …" ~ Joanne

How did Joanne get here? This is her story …

Joanne is a busy, 37-year old mother of two small children. Like many working moms, she works part time, shuttles the kids to and from school and different activities, and takes care of the house and family. She tries to live a healthy lifestyle, exercising several times a week and cooking nutritious meals at home. Joanne has been happily married to her husband, John, for 15 years.

One day, Joanne felt sick after picking the boys up from school. She was tired, achy, and had a fever. "I must have the flu," she told John. Joanne took some Theraflu and went to bed. She lost her appetite and didn't eat much. Her symptoms went away after a few days, but she still didn't feel right. 'That was the worst flu ever," she thought.

Joanne went back to her routine, but something was off. She normally had a lot of energy, but now she felt fatigued, run down. And her joints still ached. Joanne didn't like going to the doctor, so she carried on as best as she could. 'I'm young and healthy," she thought. She didn't suspect that anything was seriously wrong.

Then, one morning, she woke up with severe symptoms that she could no longer ignore. The alarm went off at 6:00 AM, as usual. It was going to be a busy day, so Joanne needed to get up and get going. But she just didn't feel right. She hurt all over. And the joints in her hands were especially stiff and sore. She struggled to brush her teeth, shower, and even to button up her shirt. What was going on?

It would take months of doctor's appointments and tests to figure out that Joanne had severe rheumatoid arthritis (RA). While her disease onset was faster than most cases, Joanne's story illustrates an important point. Don't ignore new or troubling medical symptoms. Your symptoms may or may not be a sign of something serious, so it's important to be examined by a doctor right away. Studies have shown that delaying the diagnosis and treatment of rheumatoid arthritis increases the risk of joint damage, deformity, loss of function, and other potentially serious consequences.

Being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis can be scary, but the condition can be managed with appropriate treatment. Other studies have shown that increasing your knowledge about rheumatoid arthritis and taking an active role in managing your condition may lead to a better outcome for you and your joints. Learning everything you can about rheumatoid arthritis symptoms is the first step to taking charge of your joint health.

Your joints are talking. Are you listening?

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"Handout on Health: Rheumatoid Arthritis." National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). April 2009. <>.