Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory condition that affects more than just the joints. Some people can suffer damage to many different body systems, including the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, and blood vessels.
The immune system mistakenly attacks your body’s tissues when rheumatoid arthritis occurs. Rheumatoid arthritis, in contrast to osteoarthritis, causes swelling of your joints that can eventually result in bone erosion and joint deformity, instead of the wear-and-tear damage associated with osteoarthritis.
The inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis can also damage other parts of the body. While new treatments for severe rheumatoid arthritis have improved dramatically, they still can lead to severe disabilities.
Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis may include:
Early rheumatoid arthritis tends to affect your smaller joints first, particularly the joints that attach your fingers to your hands and your toes to your feet. As it progresses, the symptoms often spread to the shoulders, hips, elbows, ankles, knees, and wrists. In most cases, symptoms occur in the same joints on both sides of your body.
Factors that may increase your risk of rheumatoid arthritis include:
Rheumatoid arthritis can be difficult to diagnose in its early stages because the early symptoms imitate those of many other diseases. There is no one blood test or physical finding to confirm the diagnosis. During the physical exam, your doctor will check your joints for swelling, redness, and warmth. Your doctor may also check your reflexes and muscle strength.
There is no specific cure for rheumatoid arthritis. However, clinical studies indicate that remission of symptoms is more likely when treatment begins early with medications known as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs).
Medications can be used for rheumatoid arthritis:
The types of medications recommended by your doctor will depend on the severity of your symptoms and how long you’ve had rheumatoid arthritis. Always ask for instructions when taking certain medications.