This form of arthritis is characterized by painful inflammation that destroys joint tissue. Other parts of the body may also be affected.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a type of autoimmune disorder, which is a condition where the immune system attacks the body's own tissues. In the case of RA, the joints are a primary focus of that attack. When RA affects the joints it can cause joint inflammation and damage, which can interfere with everyday activities. In addition to the joints, RA can affect other parts of the body (i.e., the heart and lungs).
The exact cause of RA is not known. However, risk for developing the condition is increased by:
The symptoms of RA can start at any age. However, they often begin in middle age, and usually affect the same joints on both sides of the body. The term “symmetrical” is used to describe that involvement. The hands and feet are often affected before the wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck, ankles and knees. Symptoms can vary, but frequently include:
As the disease progresses there may be:
It is important to diagnose RA early to prevent, delay and/or limit joint damage or other complications. Contact your healthcare provider if you have symptoms of RA. They will take a medical history, perform a physical exam and may order some tests. If you do have RA, they will probably refer you to a specialist (rheumatologist) for treatment.
Since RA is a chronic disease, treatment is usually needed for extended periods of time, perhaps your entire life. Treatment plans usually include:
Self-care measures include:
New drugs have been developed that can control the inflammation and joint destruction much better than those that were available in the past. However, these medications can have serious side effects that require close monitoring.
Make an appointment with your healthcare provider if you have symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis or think you may be at risk for rheumatoid arthritis.
Here are some questions to ask your healthcare provider:
If you are a smoker, ask about smoking cessation programs in your area. Ask about other ways you might be able to stop smoking.
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