Living With Rheumatoid Arthritis, From Diagnosis to Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Carolin Schneider, MD

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Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease of unknown origin with a variable progression. It primarily impacts the joints but can also affect the internal organs. About 1.3 million adults in the United States are affected by rheumatoid arthritis. While most types of arthritis affect older adults, rheumatoid arthritis can affect people of all ages, including teenagers and even children. But initial symptoms appear more frequently in a person's 40s or 50s. Rheumatoid arthritis affects women more commonly than men.

Rheumatoid arthritis begins gradually and grows more severe over time. In addition to joint pain, heart, lung and eye damage can result from the condition. But, many people can live long and healthy lives by keeping their symptoms under control.

The diagnosis is based primarily on the clinical appearance; this form of arthritis causes symmetrical swelling and pain in the small joints of the hands and feet. Fortunately, rheumatoid arthritis is treatable, and early drug therapy with a primary therapeutic agent is vial for a favorable outcome. To date, there is no cure for this condition, but treatments are available to ease pain and slow the progression.