This Is What Rheumatoid Arthritis Actually Feels Like

Most people think arthritis only affects those hovering around retirement age. But rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic inflammatory disorder, can actually strike those in their 20s or 30s. And unlike some other rheumatic diseases, the side effects of the condition extend beyond joint pain and stiffness.

With rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system attacks the lining of the joints, causing pain and swelling, as well as less-talked-about symptoms like extreme fatigue and rashes—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s what it’s really like to live with rheumatoid arthritis:

(You can ease rheumatoid arthritis pain as well as reverse, and even heal, other autoimmune conditions with The Thyroid Cure, a new program from Prevention.)

What Rheumatoid Arthritis Actually Feels Like, Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms
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You feel like you’re coming down with a cold. All. The. Time.

In the beginning, rheumatoid arthritis often manifests as stiffness and tenderness in the hands, wrist, or feet. But because early symptoms may also mimic other conditions, it can take a while for doctors to diagnose. (Here’s a look at some of the scary conditions that could be making you hurt.)

“It took about six months to get diagnosed. During that time, I felt like I was constantly fighting a cold. I had muscle aches, red, hot, swollen joints, and extreme fatigue.” —Jennifer Maggiore, 39, Phoenix, Arizona

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