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Rheumatoid [ROO-muh-toid] arthritis (RA) is a chronic condition that causes inflammation of the joints. It may also cause inflammation in other parts of the body. Symptoms of the disease will come and go. These are often referred to as flare-ups and remissions. Learn more about rheumatoid arthritis.

 

Symptoms

Common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling or tenderness in the joints
  • Stiffness in the joints
  • Bumps over small joints
  • Trouble performing daily tasks, such as tying shoes
  • Fever
  • Fatigue

When to See a Doctor

If you have symptoms that may indicate rheumatoid arthritis, see a healthcare provider. You may need testing to confirm or rule out rheumatoid arthritis.

Causes

The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown. Researchers think that perhaps genetics (characteristics handed down from generation to generation) may be a factor.

Diagnosis and Tests

Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis may also be caused by other medical conditions. Your doctor will likely recommend several tests to rule out other causes of your symptoms. He or she will take your medical history and perform a physical exam. Other tests will include:

  • Blood tests. These tests will look for antibodies (the immune system’s tool for fighting disease) in your blood that are linked to rheumatoid arthritis. One such antibody, called “rheumatoid factor” is found in many patients with rheumatoid arthritis. 
  • Imaging tests. These tests will look for joint damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis. In early stages of rheumatoid arthritis, these tests may not show any damage.
  • Joint aspiration. During this test, a small amount of fluid is taken from a swollen joint. The fluid is then analyzed for signs of infection.

Treatments

There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. However, symptoms can be managed with some treatment options, including:

  • Medicines. To control pain and inflammation, the doctor can prescribe medicines. Some medicines may help keep the disease from getting worse. Your doctor should manage all medicines you take.
  • Physical therapy. This may be used to help increase joint. 
  • Splints. These can help protect your joints and strengthen weak joints.
  • Surgery. In some cases, the doctor may recommend surgery to correct any deformities caused by rheumatoid arthritis. In severe cases, joint replacement surgery may be performed. During this surgery, a damaged or diseased joint is replaced with an artificial joint.

Prevention

Currently, there is no way to prevent rheumatoid arthritis. Doctors will work with you to try to prevent flare-ups of the disease and manage symptoms.

Support and Resources

American College of Rheumatology – www.rheumatology.org

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid [ROO-muh-toid] arthritis (often called “RA”) is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the joints. Symptoms are caused when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints and other areas of the body. When this occurs, the tissue that lines the inside of joints begin to thicken, causing swelling and pain.

Rheumatoid arthritis commonly affects the joints of the hands, feet, wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles. Often times, it will affect multiple joints at the same time. Symptoms of rheumatoid disease will come and go. These are often referred to as flare-ups and remissions. There is no cure for the disease.

Rheumatoid arthritis can affect people of all ages. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is a form of arthritis that develops in children ages 16 or younger. Unlike rheumatoid arthritis in adults, children will often outgrow juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. However, the disease may cause problems with bone development in children.

If untreated, rheumatoid arthritis can cause damage to the body’s cartilage and bones. Joint deformity may also occur in severe forms of rheumatoid arthritis. The disease can also affect other systems in your body, such as the cardiovascular system.

Rheumatoid arthritis is different from osteoarthritis. The main difference between the 2 diseases is that osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear on the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by problems with the body’s immune system.