For many people battling Rheumatoid Arthritis, RA is the reason for their pain, swelling, and stiffness. But what exactly is RA? What causes RA? What are the symptoms of RA? Who gets RA?
What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory disease that causes pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of function in the joints.
RA is a type of arthritis, which is an umbrella term used to describe inflammation of the joints. There are different kinds of arthritis like osteoarthritis (OA), which is a primarily a degenerative disease.
What causes rheumatoid arthritis?
It is caused by the immune system, which normally defends the body by attacking invading organisms, instead attacks against the membrane lining the joints. RA is NOT caused by an infection or a virus, therefore you cannot “catch” RA from anyone.
What are the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis?
Cases of rheumatoid arthritis can range from mild to severe. In most cases it is chronic, which means it lasts a long time (often a lifetime). For many people, RA is cyclical, during flares, symptoms are more sever and during remission, symptoms improve and may seem to disappear. For others, symptoms are constant.
Rheumatoid arthritis vary among people. Everyone’s body reacts a little different but according to the NIH common symptoms include:
- Tender, warm, swollen joints
- Symmetrical pattern of affected joints
- Joint inflammation often affecting the wrist and finger joints closest to the hand
- Joint inflammation sometimes affecting other joints, including the neck, shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, ankles, and feet
- Fatigue, occasional fevers, a loss of energy
- Pain and stiffness lasting for more than 30 minutes in the morning or after a long rest
Who gets rheumatoid arthritis?
According to the Arthritis Foundation about 1.5 million people in the United States have rheumatoid arthritis. Women are 3x more likely to get the disease (in fact, women are more at risk for autoimmune disease in general) and tend to get the disease earlier. In women, RA most commonly begins between ages 30 and 60. In men, it often occurs later in life. Having a family member with RA increases the odds of having RA; however, the majority of people with RA have no family history of the disease.