Early diagnosis checklist

by Arthur's Place

Hands may start to feel tender and hurt when held

If you think you may have arthritis, book an appointment with your GP. In the meantime, see our list of early warning signs

We know that if you have arthritis, the sooner it’s identified and treated, the better. But it’s not always easy to spot what’s going on straight away.

Below is a checklist of symptoms that can inform an early diagnosis. If you recognise any of these symptoms it is advisable to visit your GP as soon as possible. If it helps, take a print-out of this article to show them, or show them on your mobile phone (Arthur’s Place is fully browsable on your smart phone). It may also be helpful to take photos of any changes you have noticed, such as swollen joints or skin rashes.

Stiffness in the joints

With conditions such as juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) and rheumatoid arthritis, you may develop stiffness in one or several joints, particularly in the morning, which eases through the day. It might come and go for some time, becoming more regular, and possibly symmetrical.

Often with arthritis you may feel symptoms in small joints first – fingers and toes.

Pain and swelling

Pain and swelling in the joints often follows early stiffness. This can be accompanied by heat and redness. You might notice that rings and shoes don’t fit anymore, and you get sore feet in even your comfiest shoes. You get pain if you walk any distance, and it takes days to recover from a night out dancing.

Difficulty with everyday stuff

You might begin to notice that things you found really easy to do before have become more difficult. This could be anything from doing up buttons and laces to playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto Number 5 (you do that every day too right?).

For Uni students, add to that list opening wine screwtops and Nutella lids, and making a pincer grip on the teeny tiny pull tabs on Pot Noodles. Kneeling on the carpet to play Xbox all night, playing guitar or holding your arms in the air with straightening irons to create a hair style might prove challenges to knees, arms and hands too.

Reduced appetite

This on its own can have many causes, obviously, but should be taken in context if there are other symptoms.

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Increased tiredness

Everyone feels tired occasionally, especially if you’ve been working or studying hard, partying or just staying up late watching box sets!

But if you’re tired all of the time, and sometimes totally wiped out, this can be one of the early signs of rheumatoid arthritis. A full night’s sleep just doesn’t make a difference, leaving you just as exhausted, and it can even feel like you have the flu.


If you feel generally out of sorts and short-tempered, and it’s definitely not your normal way of feeling, you should take note. Plus, if it is accompanied by other symptoms then it is something to be aware of.

Change in gait

For some you may notice that you have started to walk a little differently, perhaps because of stiffness or swelling in joints. Those close to you might spot this before you do, so you could ask them if they’ve noticed. Comparing your left side to your right may also help you to see if there is swelling. Look out for your knees seeming different sizes to each other.


This is a condition where the amount of haemoglobin in the blood is below the normal level, or there are fewer red blood cells than normal.

If you are anaemic you will feel tired and possibly breathless. Anaemia is common in rheumatoid arthritis.

Weight loss

Unwanted weight loss is common in people with rheumatoid arthritis. This can be due to loss of appetite, anaemia and flu-like symptoms.


With some forms of arthritis such as rheumatic arthritis, you may run a low-grade fever. You might feel hot and sweaty and generally ill, as though you have the flu.

When to go to your doctor

We know doctors don’t like us to show up at their busy surgeries for every little ache, pain and grumble. But Versus Arthritis recommends that you see a doctor if you have pain in your joints AND:

  • The pain isn’t connected to an injury, or lasts for longer than a week.
  • Your joint is swollen, but hasn’t been injured.
  • You also feel unwell or have a high temperature.
  • Joint or muscle pain is stopping you from carrying out your everyday tasks.
  • Your back hurts after lifting something heavy and painkillers and heat hasn’t helped after a week or so.
  • You get swelling, stiffness, a tightness, or a painful “squeeze” in your joints.

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