Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory disease
that causes pain, swelling, stiffness and subsequent loss of function
in the joints. It has several special features that make it
different from other kinds of arthritis (see information box
below). For example, rheumatoid arthritis generally occurs
in a symmetrical pattern. This means that if one knee or hand
is involved, the other one is also. The disease often affects
the wrist joints and the finger joints closest to the hand.
It can also affect other parts of the body besides the joints
(see illustrations on next page). In addition, people with the disease
may have fatigue, occasional fever and a general sense of malaise.
Another feature of rheumatoid arthritis is that
it varies a lot from person to person. For some people, it
lasts only a few months or a year or two and goes away without
causing any noticeable damage. Other people have mild or moderate
disease, with periods of worsening symptoms, called flares,
and periods in which they feel better, called remissions.
Still others have severe disease that is active most of the
time, lasts for many years, and leads to serious joint damage
Although rheumatoid arthritis can have serious
effects on a person's life and well-being, current treatment
strategies, including pain relief and other medications, a
balance between rest and exercise, and patient education and
support programs allow most people with RA to lead
active and productive lives. In recent years, research has
led to a new understanding of rheumatoid arthritis and has
increased the likelihood that, in time, researchers can find
ways to greatly reduce the impact of this disease.
Features of Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Tender, warm, swollen joints.
- Symmetrical pattern. For example, if one knee
is affected, the other one is also.
- Joint inflammation often affecting the wrist and
finger joints closest to the hand; other affected
joints can include those of the neck, shoulders,
elbows, hips, knees, ankles, and feet.
- Fatigue, occasional fever, a general sense of
not feeling well (malaise).
- Pain and stiffness lasting for more than 30 minutes
in the morning or after a long rest.
- Symptoms that can last for many years.
- Symptoms in other parts of the body besides the
- Variability of symptoms among people with the
Rheumatoid Arthritis Develops and Progresses
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