What is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes pain, stiffness, swelling, and loss of function in the joints. It occurs when your immune system — the system that protects your body from foreign substances like bacteria and viruses —  mistakenly starts attacking healthy tissue.This causes inflammation that leads to swelling in the joints, making them progressively less mobile. If not managed properly, RA can damage cartilage and bone, leading to irreparable joint damage and deformity.

Rheumatoid arthritis most commonly affects the joints of the hands, feet, wrists, elbows, knees and ankles. Unlike the more common osteoarthritis (OA), RA is not associated with factors such as aging, obesity, or injury.

Symptoms of RA

RA symptoms can vary from person to person, but include:

  • Pain, tenderness, swelling or stiffness in more than one joint for six weeks or longer
  • Morning stiffness for 30 minutes or longer
  • Small joints (wrists, certain joints of the hands and feet) and the same joints on both sides of the body affected
  • Fatigue and muscle pain
  • Weakness
  • Flu-like symptoms, including low-grade fever
  • Flares of disease activity followed by remission or disease inactivity
  • Rheumatoid

Advanced RA complications include joint damage that leads to deformity and limited range of motion.

Treatment Options

The goals of rheumatoid arthritis treatment are to:

  • Stop inflammation (put disease in remission)
  • Relieve symptoms
  • Prevent joint and organ damage
  • Improve physical function and overall well-being
  • Reduce long-term complications

A number of rheumatoid arthritis treatments and approaches can help with these goals, including physical and occupational therapy, exercise, and medications. Some medications are for pain relief only (analgesics) while others reduce joint inflammation (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, and corticosteroids).

We encourage you visit American College of Rheumatology and the Arthritis Foundation to become more knowledgeable about your condition.  The knowledge of your disorder helps you in understanding the disorder and its treatment.  Each person is different so what applies to one patient may not apply to another. Reading and understanding about your disorder will help you be better prepared to discuss the disorder with your physician and understand the options that are available to help you. These links are not connected to Albuquerque Center for Rheumatology and are offered for your information only.