Rheumatoid Arthritis

What is rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a long-term (chronic) disease that causes inflammation of the joints. The inflammation can be so severe that it affects how the joints and other parts of the body look and function. In the hand, RA may cause deformities in the joints of the fingers. This makes moving your hands difficult. Lumps, known as rheumatoid nodules, may form anywhere in the body.

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), also known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis
(JRA), is a form of arthritis in children ages 16 or younger. It causes inflammation and
joint stiffness that last for more than 6 weeks. Unlike adult RA, which lasts a
lifetime, children often outgrow JIA . But the disease can affect bone development in a
growing child. Some children with JIA will continue to have arthritis into adulthood.

What causes rheumatoid arthritis?

Doctors don’t know the exact cause of RA. RA is an autoimmune disorder. This means the
body’s immune system attacks its own healthy cells and tissues. This causes inflammation
in and around the joints. This may damage the skeletal system. RA can also damage other
organs, such as the heart and lungs. Researchers think certain factors, including
heredity, may be a factor.

RA
most often occurs in people from ages 30 to 50, but it can occur at any age. It happens
more in women than in men.

What are the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis?

The
joints most often affected by RA are in the hands, wrists, feet, ankles, knees,
shoulders, and elbows. The disease often causes inflammation in the same areas on both
sides of the body. Symptoms may start suddenly or slowly over time. Each person’s
symptoms may vary. They may include:

  • Joint
    pain
  • Stiffness, especially in the morning
  • Swelling over the joints
  • Decreased movement
  • Pain that is worse with joint movement
  • Bumps over the small joints
  • Trouble
    doing activities of daily living, such as tying shoes, opening jars, or buttoning
    shirts
  • Trouble grasping or pinching things
  • Tiredness and lack of energy (fatigue)
  • Occasional fever

These symptoms can seem like other health conditions. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is rheumatoid arthritis diagnosed?

Diagnosing RA may be difficult in the early stages. This is because symptoms may be
very mild, and signs of the disease may not be seen on X-rays or in blood tests. Your
healthcare provider will take your health history and give you a physical exam. You may
need tests such as:

  • X-ray. This test uses a small amount of radiation to create images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.
  • Joint aspiration. For this test, a small fluid sample is taken from a swollen joint. It is done to look for signs of infection or gout.
  • Nodule biopsy. Tiny tissue samples are taken to look at under a microscope. This helps to check for cancer or other abnormal cells.   
  • Blood
    tests.
    These tests are done to find certain antibodies called rheumatoid
    factor, cyclic citrullinated antibody, and other signs of RA.
  • Ultrasound or MRI. These imaging tests can look for bone damage and inflammation.