While it may not be as well-known as other types of arthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) still affects more than 450,000 people in the UK. This autoimmune condition occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the lining of joints, leading to inflammation and a range of symptoms, including joint pain and stiffness. While RA primarily affects the joints, it’s essential to understand that it is a systemic disease. This means it can impact various parts of the body, including organs like the lungs and heart.

If you have been diagnosed with RA, you may notice that your symptoms come and go. They can also become worse over time and it’s important to be aware of any changes you experience so you can make timely medical interventions. Below we have explored some of the common signs that your rheumatoid arthritis may be getting worse.

Increasing Joint Pain and Stiffness

One of the most prevalent signs that your RA could be getting worse is an escalation in joint pain, swelling and stiffness. If you notice that your joints are becoming more painful or stiff, especially in the morning or after periods of inactivity, it may indicate disease progression. This discomfort can affect your ability to perform daily activities. 

Persistent Fatigue

RA-related fatigue can be overwhelming and persistent. Sometimes, a few days of rest is enough to help you feel better, however, if you find that your fatigue levels are increasing it could be a sign that your RA is becoming more active. You may need additional treatment or medication if your symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis continue to worsen. 

Reduced Range of Motion

As RA progresses, it can lead to a decrease in your joint’s range of motion. You may find it more challenging to perform everyday tasks that require mobility, like bending, reaching or even walking. As these become more difficult, it can impact your independence. If you notice a decline in your range of motion, it’s essential to discuss it with your rheumatology team.

Joint Inflammation

An increase in joint inflammation is a clear indication that your RA is worsening. If you notice visible joint swelling and a feeling of warmth or tenderness, it’s essential to address these symptoms promptly. Uncontrolled inflammation not only leads to pain and discomfort but can also result in irreversible joint damage and disability if left untreated.

Systemic Symptoms

As touched on above, RA is a systemic disease and it can affect more than just your joints. If you experience symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain, eye redness or pain, or other unexplained symptoms it’s crucial to consult your rheumatology team. While they may be unrelated, it’s worth getting checked out in case your RA is getting worse. 

Worsening Impact on Daily Life

RA can significantly impact different aspects of your day-to-day life. If you find that your condition is interfering with your daily life more than usual, it’s a sign that your RA may be worsening. Self-management can often help to improve daily life for people with rheumatoid arthritis, but you may need some medical support too. 

Increased Frequency of Flares

RA flares are episodes of increased disease activity and symptoms, they can happen at any time and can be quite common for some people. If you experience frequent or more severe flares, it’s an indicator that you might not be in control of your RA and it may be time to review your treatment plan. 

Difficulty Identifying Early Signs

Over time, you may become more attuned to your body and better at identifying the early signs of a flare. If you notice these signs are becoming more pronounced or occurring more regularly, it’s essential to take action. It can be useful to keep a diary of your symptoms to help keep track and relay any changes to healthcare professionals. Your healthcare team can then assess your condition, adjust your treatment plan and provide guidance on managing the progression of RA.

Keeping on Top of Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms

Rheumatoid arthritis is a complex and chronic condition that requires ongoing management. Watching out for signs that RA is getting worse is essential for maintaining your quality of life and preventing irreversible joint damage. By practising self-management techniques and seeking timely medical intervention when needed, people with RA can expect to lead full and active lives. If you notice any of these signs, don’t hesitate to reach out to your GP or consultant rheumatologist for guidance.

At the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS), we provide lots of useful information to people diagnosed with RA. If you need support with your condition and the impact it’s having on your life, we can point you in the right direction. 

Our helpline is here for you, Monday to Friday from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. Call us for free on 0800 298 7650 and we will be happy to help.