Knee trouble. Your knee joint locking or sending stabs of pain when you bend it, as when going up or down stairs. Added red flag: Knee pain if you’re overweight. “Every extra pound you gain feels like four pounds across your knees,” White says. Excess weight raises your risk of developing arthritis, which some 60 percent of obese people develop.
Related types of painful physical function include limping, being unable to extend your elbow, changes in how steadily you can stand or walk, and trouble standing on tiptoe.
Why pay attention: The knee is the largest joint in the body and the second-most common site for osteoarthritis, according to White. (A bow-legged “cowboy” walk can result from osteoarthritic knees.) Other key targets: the hips, the back, the ankles, the thumbs, and the hands. “People really don’t go to the doctor until they can’t do what they want to do — lift a baby, walk a block, get out of bed easily — and pain is the number-one reason why,” White says.
Caregivers should beware of a debilitating cycle in loved ones with arthritis, Putterman says. If activity is painful, you avoid it, you stay inside more, you sit home and eat, you gain weight, which makes you even less able to get out — and before you know it, you’re on a path to losing independence.
Flu-like symptoms. Chronic tiredness, loss of appetite, weight loss, anemia, and/or fever that persists for weeks (longer than a bout of flu). Some combination of these symptoms usually appears, along with stiffness and pain. You might even notice changes in nonjoint tissue, such as eyes that feel dry and sore and may be red. These symptoms can come on gradually or suddenly.
Why pay attention: Having these mild, flu-like, across-the-body symptoms, along with stiffness and pain, points to rheumatoid arthritis. RA is a disorder of systemic inflammation, meaning the entire body is affected (as opposed to the problem being isolated in a particular joint). “You shouldn’t just take two Tylenol and sleep the discomfort off,” Putterman says. These symptoms warrant a physical exam soon.