What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) causes joint inflammation and pain. It happens when the immune system doesn’t work properly and attacks the lining of the joints, called the synovium. The disease commonly affects the hands, knees or ankles, and usually the same joint on both sides of the body, such as both hands or both knees. But sometimes RA causes problems in other parts of the body as well, such as the eyes, heart and circulatory system and/or the lungs.
For unknown reasons, more women than men get RA, and it usually develops in middle age. Having a family member with RA increases the odds of developing RA.
In the early stages, people with RA may not see redness or swelling in the joints, but they may experience tenderness and pain.
These symptoms are clues to RA:
- Joint pain, tenderness, swelling or stiffness that lasts for six weeks or longer.
- Morning stiffness that lasts for 30 minutes or longer.
- More than one joint is affected.
- Small joints (wrists, certain joints in the hands and feet) are typically affected first.
- The same joints on both sides of the body are affected.
Many people with RA get very tired (fatigue) and some may have a low-grade fever. RA symptoms may come and go. Having a lot of inflammation and other symptoms is called a flare. A flare can last for days or months.
Therapy for RA has improved greatly in the past 30 years. Current treatments give most patients good or excellent relief of symptoms and let them keep functioning at, or near, normal levels. With the right medications, many patients can have no signs of active disease. When the symptoms are completely controlled, the disease is in “remission”.