Arthritis is a group of diseases that makes your joints hurt, swell up, and turn red. There are many different types of arthritis.
What is rheumatoid arthritis (RA)?
RA is a type of arthritis in which your body's immune system Overview of the Immune System The immune system is your body's defense system. It helps protect you from illness and infection. The immune system's job is to attack things that don’t belong in your body, including: Germs... read more attacks your joints.
RA is more common in women and usually starts in people between 35 and 50 years old, but it can start at any age
It can affect any joint but is particularly common in your hands and feet
Joints are swollen, painful, and stiff in the morning and often become deformed after many years
Sometimes RA affects other parts of your body, including your heart, lungs, eyes, and blood vessels
Doctors can tell if you have RA based on your symptoms, x-rays, and blood tests
Treatments can include medicines, exercise, and sometimes surgery
What causes rheumatoid arthritis?
RA is an autoimmune disease Autoimmune Diseases The immune system is your body's defense system. It helps protect you from illness and infection. The immune system usually attacks invading bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells. With an autoimmune... read more . The immune system is part of your body's defense system, which helps protect you from illness and infection. In an autoimmune disease, your immune system attacks parts of your own body by mistake—in RA, your immune system attacks your joints and sometimes other parts of your body. Doctors don't know exactly what causes your immune system to attack your joints.
What are the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis?
Symptoms usually start gradually.
The most common symptoms include:
Tender, warm, red, and swollen joints (inflammation), usually the same joints on both sides of your body (like both wrists or both knees)
Stiffness in the affected joints for an hour or so after you get up in the morning
Along with the joint pain, you may feel generally sick with symptoms like:
Feeling tired and run down
No appetite and losing weight
After awhile, if the joint problems get worse, you may:
Be unable to bend or open joints all the way
Have permanently deformed joints, especially in your hands and fingers
When the Fingers Are Abnormally Bent
Some disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, and injuries can cause the fingers to bend abnormally. In swan-neck deformity, the joint at the base of the finger bends in (flexes), the middle joint straightens out (extends), and the outermost joint bends in (flexes). In boutonnière deformity, the middle finger joint is bent inward (toward the palm), and the outermost finger joint is bent outward (away from the palm).
You might also have problems that don't involve your joints. For example, you may have:
Red, irritated eyes
Heart or lung problems causing chest pain or trouble breathing
Hard skin lumps on your arms or legs
Most people with RA develop some disabilities but can still lead normal lives. Some people become more disabled, like those with severe deformities of their hands.
How can my doctor tell if I have rheumatoid arthritis?
Your doctor can tell if you have RA from:
How do doctors treat rheumatoid arthritis?
Doctors treat RA with medicines that can:
Bring down swelling and help with symptoms
Slow the progress of RA and prevent joints from becoming deformed
Weaken the immune system to lessen symptoms
Doctors may suggest you:
Get regular rest
Eat a diet rich in fish and plant oils but low in red meat
Exercise (talk with your doctor about what type is best for you)
Doctors may also suggest:
Heat or cold therapy
Surgery if needed, such as a knee or hip replacement