What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Arthritis is a general term that describes inflammation in joints. Inflammation is characterized by redness, warmth, swelling, and pain in the joint.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a type of chronic (ongoing) arthritis that occurs in joints on both sides of the body (such as both hands, wrists, and/or knees). This symmetric multiple joint involvement helps distinguish rheumatoid arthritis from other types of arthritis.
In addition to affecting the joints, rheumatoid arthritis may occasionally affect organs outside of the joints including the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, blood, nerves, or kidneys.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, meaning that patient’s immune system (the body’s infection-fighting system) is over-reacting against itself. The result can generate some or all of the symptoms as described in the symptoms section.
How does rheumatoid arthritis affect people?
Rheumatoid arthritis affects each individual differently. In most people, joint symptoms may develop gradually over several years. In other people, rheumatoid arthritis may progress rapidly. A few people may have rheumatoid arthritis for a limited period of time and then enter a remission (a time with no symptoms).
Who is affected by rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis affects more than 1.3 million people in the United States. It is 2.5 times more common in women than men. It usually occurs between the ages of 20 to 50; however, young children and the elderly can also develop rheumatoid arthritis.
What causes rheumatoid arthritis?
The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown. However, it is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic factors, abnormal immunity, environmental factors, and hormonal factors.
Normally, the immune system protects the body from disease. In rheumatoid arthritis, something triggers the immune system to attack the joints and sometimes other organs. Suspected triggering factors for rheumatoid arthritis are infections, cigarette smoking and stress physical or emotional. Gender, heredity, and genes largely determine a person's risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. For example, women are about three times more likely than men to develop rheumatoid arthritis.
What are the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis?
- Joint pain.
- Joint swelling.
- Stiffness: especially in the morning or after sitting for long periods.
- Fatigue: best defined as tiredness and excessive sleepiness.
What are the results of joint inflammation?
Ultimately, uncontrolled inflammation leads to joint deformities due to destruction and wearing down of the cartilage which normally acts as a “shock absorber” in between joints. Eventually the bone itself erodes potentially leading to fusion of the joint which represents an effort of the body to protect itself from constant irritation from excessive inflammation. This process is mediated by specific cells and substances of the immune system which are produced locally in the joints but also circulate in the body causing systemic symptoms.