Rheumatoid Arthritis

Overview

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic form of arthritis that causes joint inflammation (swelling) and eventual loss of function in joints. Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is not caused by normal aging of the joints; instead, it is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. Rheumatoid arthritis most commonly affects the joints in the hands and feet, but it can also damage the eyes, skin, and lungs. There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but there are ways to manage its symptoms.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Rheumatoid arthritis most commonly starts in the smaller joints, causing them to become swollen, warm, and tender. It may be difficult to move the joints in the morning. Eventually, the arthritis spreads to other, larger joints such as the knees, ankles, hips, and shoulders. The skin may also be affected by the formation of rheumatoid nodules, bumps of tissue under the skin of the arms. People with rheumatoid arthritis often feel tired and may lose weight. The symptoms vary from person to person and may disappear and flare back up sporadically. Over time, rheumatoid arthritis can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, osteoporosis, heart disease, and lung disease.

Rheumatoid arthritis is most common in older adults, but anyone can get it. Women are more likely than men to have it. There is no test to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis, and its symptoms often resemble those of other conditions such as osteoarthritis, hepatitis C, and Lyme disease. A doctor may examine the joints and will possibly do a blood test to check for an elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate, which is common in people with rheumatoid arthritis and shows inflammation in the body. Blood tests can also show the presence of rheumatoid factor (RF), an antibody, and anti-citrullinated protein antibodies (ACPAs); however, a negative RF or ACPA test does not necessarily rule out rheumatoid arthritis. X-rays may help to show the extent of damage and follow the disease’s progression.

Causes

Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by the immune system attacking the lining of the joints. It is not known why some people’s immune systems react in this way. Genetics may play a role in the development of rheumatoid arthritis by predisposing people to infections that might trigger the disease. Smoking also increases the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. Continue reading for Prevention and Treatment Information . . .

Pages: 1 2