Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease where the body's immune system attacks normal joint tissues, causing inflammation of the joint lining.
This inflammation of the joint lining (called the synovium) can cause pain, stiffness, swelling, warmth, and redness. The affected joint may also lose its shape, resulting in loss of normal movement. RA is an ongoing disease, with active periods of pain and inflammation, known as flares, alternating with periods of remission, when pain and inflammation disappear.
RA can affect many different joints. In some people, it can even affect parts of the body other than the joints, including the eyes, blood, the lungs, and the heart.
Although RA is often a chronic disease, the severity and duration of symptoms may unpredictably come and go. With RA, people experience periods of increased disease activity, called flare-ups or flares, alternating with periods when the symptoms fade or disappear, called remission.
If you experience some of these symptoms, you may want to talk to your doctor:
As RA progresses, about 25% of people with the disease develop small lumps of tissue under the skin, called rheumatoid nodules, which can vary in size. Usually, they are not painful.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms described above, it is important to find out from a doctor if you have RA.
The exact causes of RA are unknown. But research has shown that several factors may contribute to the development of RA:
Rheumatoid arthritis can cause joint inflammation, which can affect the ability to go about your daily activities. If left untreated, RA can worsen and destroy joints. After the onset of the disease, some of the effects of RA are as follows:
If you have persistent discomfort and swelling in multiple joints on both sides of your body, make an appointment to see your doctor. Early diagnosis and treatment can help slow disease progression.
When you see your doctor about your symptoms, he or she may ask questions about your medical history and examine the joints that are bothering you. Your doctor will also decide if you need other tests to help confirm the diagnosis of RA and determine the extent and severity of joint damage. These may include:
If you have joint pain, stiffness, and/or swelling that won't go away, you may have arthritis. Talk with your doctor about your symptoms.