Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder affecting joints
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is chronic disease of the joints. RA causes the joints to become swollen (inflamed), stiff, and painful. Over time, inflammation may destroy the joint tissues which can limit daily activities and make it hard to walk and/or use the hands. The disease is more common in women than in men, and typically begins between the ages of 40 to 60.
The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is unknown. RA is an autoimmune disease, meaning the body's natural defense system attacks the joints. Components of the immune system attack the soft tissue that lines the joints (synovial tissue) and can also attack connective tissue in many other parts of the body such as blood vessels and lungs. Eventually cartilage, bone, and ligaments of the joint erode (wear away) which causes deformity, instability, and scarring within the joint. Many factors including genetic predisposition may influence the pattern of the disease. Unknown environmental factors (such as viral infections and cigarette smoking) are also thought to play a role.
The main symptoms of RA include pain, stiffness, and swelling in the joints of the hands, wrists, elbows, feet, ankles, knees, or neck. In rare but severe cases the disease may also affect the eyes, lungs, heart, nerves, or blood vessels. The inflamed joints are usually painful and often stiff, especially just after awakening (such stiffness generally lasts for more than 60 minutes) or after prolonged inactivity. Some people feel tired and weak, especially in the early afternoon. Rheumatoid arthritis may cause a loss of appetite with weight loss and a low-grade fever. Sometimes the disease can cause bumps, called nodules, to form over the elbows, knuckles, spine, and lower leg bones.
Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) includes medicine, exercise, and lifestyle changes. Receiving treatment early for the disease may help to control the condition or keep it from getting worse. When treatment with medications are needed, a Rheumatologist may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids (such as prednisone), disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), as well as other biologic medications.