Rheumatoid Arthritis

Published: March 22, 2010

a a a

What Is It?

Rheumatoid arthritis is one of over 100 types of arthritis, a condition that causes the joints, tendons, ligaments, muscles and cartilage to become inflamed. It is an autoimmune condition that occurs when the body attacks its own joints.

While most types of arthritis affect older adults, rheumatoid arthritis can affect people of all ages, including teenagers and children. In addition to joint pain, heart, lung, and eye damage can result from the condition.

The condition begins gradually and becomes worse over time. You might begin feeling sore, and then months later, you will experience pain. Eventually this pain becomes worse, and some of your bones might become deformed, especially if the condition is severe and progressing at a rapid rate. In any case, not all people will develop deformities, and many people are able to live long and healthy lives by keeping their symptoms under control.

Even though rheumatoid arthritis is rare, the condition is treatable. There is no cure, but there are treatments available to ease pain and slow the condition's progression.

Rheumatoid arthritis affects women more commonly than men. Initial symptoms appear more frequently in a person's 40s or 50s.

Symptoms & Warning Signs

Early symptoms include exhaustion, appetite loss, weight loss, muscle aches, weakness, and stiffness in the morning. These symptoms might occur within one or multiple parts of the body. Over time, patients will develop pain and swelling in the joints. This pain might restrict movement and cause persistent stiffness.

Commonly affected areas include the fingers, elbows, shoulders, ankles, knees, neck, and toes. Pain might develop at different rates in different areas and could be limited to one or many areas.

It is normal for people with rheumatoid arthritis to develop a fever of 100 degrees or lower. If your body temperature is higher, you need to see a doctor. People who take medications for rheumatoid arthritis are prone to infection. Immunosuppressants weaken the immune system in order to stop symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. You may have trouble fighting viruses and bacterial infections when you take these drugs.

Causes & Risk Factors

There is no known cause for rheumatoid arthritis. The condition is more common among women than men, and people of any age are susceptible.

The disease is an autoimmune disorder, which means that the body attacks itself. Normally, the body recognizes its protein antibodies and attacks foreign antibodies from a viral or bacterial infection. Autoimmune conditions cause the body to attack its own antibodies.

Other illnesses, genetic factors, or hormonal changes may trigger or complicate rheumatoid arthritis in any part of the body. Some patients will develop rheumatoid arthritis as a result of an injury.

Some people experience symptoms when they eat certain foods or engage in certain activities. Many patients are able to recognize risk factors for outbreaks and control their symptoms by monitoring their lifestyle.

Prevention & Treatment

Rheumatoid arthritis requires consistent medical care. If left untreated or unmonitored, the disease can cause the joints to degenerate. As a result, a person might suffer from a permanent disability. Anti-inflammatory drugs can help control symptoms, although they can cause additional problems like stomach ulcers and heart conditions.

Anti-malaria drugs have also been used as treatments for rheumatoid arthritis. Corticosteroids help alleviate joint pain and swelling. Cyclooxygenase-2 inhibitors will block COX-2, which is an enzyme that causes swelling. White blood cell modulators and tumor necrosis factor inhibitors can also help with symptoms.

A patient might also require physical therapy, exercise, or surgery. Without treatment, long term damage, disability, or organ failure may occur. Rheumatoid arthritis can actually shorten a person's lifespan by 15 years, so it is important that you stay on top of your symptoms and treatment.

Tests & Diagnosis

A combination of tests can help diagnose rheumatoid arthritis. X-rays can help diagnose advanced stages of arthritis by revealing swelling and abnormalities in joints. The bone might also degenerate.

Blood tests measure an antibody called rheumatoid factor (RF). The test is very general, as it can indicate the presence of other conditions where RF is present.

More specific tests will measure levels of anti-citrullinated protein antibodies. Other tests may be used to test specifically for rheumatoid arthritis. A blood count or joint fluid analysis might also be required in addition to an MRI or joint ultrasound.

More in Diseases & Conditions

  • Plantar Fasciitis

    Are you experiencing a sharp pain in the heel of your foot? You may have plantar... more

  • Gingivitis

    It’s helpful to know the signs and symptoms of gingivitis so that you know when it’s... more

  • Hypochondria

    Hypochondria is a condition in which an individual believes that any physical... more

New on SymptomFind

a a a