What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system – which normally protects the body by attacking bacteria and viruses – mistakenly attacks the joints and creates inflammation thereby causing pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of function in the joints. This disease can also damage a variety of other body systems including eyes, skin, heart and lungs.
RA affects the most important joints in the body, including joints in the hands, feet, wrists, elbows, knees and ankles. In most cases, symptoms occur in the same joints on both sides of your body.
Symptoms of RA can range from mild to severe and include, but not limited to:
- Tender, warm, swollen joints
- Pain and stiffness in the morning lasting longer than 30 minutes
- Fatigue, fever, loss of appetite
What causes RA?
The cause of RA is not fully understood, but there is scientific evidence that genes, hormones and environmental factors are involved:
- Genetics – some evidence indicates RA can run in families, however genes are thought to play a small role in the condition. They may make you more susceptible to factors like viruses and bacteria thought to trigger RA.
- Hormones – RA is more common in women than men, which may be because of the effects of the hormone estrogen
- Environmental – exposure to cigarette smoke, air pollution, insecticides and occupational exposures to mineral oil and silica
How is RA treated?
The treatment goal for RA is to relieve pain, reduce swelling in the joints and stop the disease from progressing. There is no cure for RA. Studies show that people who receive early treatment for RA, feel better sooner and are more likely to lead an active life. They also are less likely to have the type of joint damage that leads to joint replacement.
Treatments for RA include the following:
- Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biologic response modifiers (biologics) — relieve symptoms and slow or prevent joint damage
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and Corticosteroids— Reduce swelling and relieve pain
- Physical therapy —helps preserve joint function and may prevent deformities
- Surgery —replace joints
For more information about RA, contact the following resources:
- American College of Rheumatology
- Arthritis Foundation
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases