Rheumatoid arthritis, in short RA, is one of several chronic diseases affecting the joints, characterized by the inflammation of cartilage, bone and joint lining. The inflammation will eventually result in damage to the involved joint. Inflammation can even affect skin, eyes and internal organs.
RA is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks healthy joint tissue. It is the most common inflammatory rheumatic disease. The cause of RA is not known but there seems to be an inherited tendency. A general theory among experts is that the disease develops due to disturbances in the immune system. What causes the immune system to react and attack body tissue is not yet certain.
RA occurs in approximately one percent of the population and women are three times more prone than men. Although the disease often begins in middle age and occurs with increased frequency in older people, children and young adults also develop it.
Early in the disease, people may notice general fatigue, soreness, stiffness and aching before symptoms appear in the joints.
Pain and swelling may occur in the same joints on both sides of the body and will usually start in the hands, fingers or wrists. The inflammation causes swelling and pain in joints. The pain and stiffness is most pronounced in the morning and diminishes during the day. Symptoms may recede in periods, but will return. Most joints in the body can be affected but it is not possible to predict which or when.
Surgery is available if the joints become damaged and mobility is reduced. The joint is then either replaced or fixated. The pain is thus reduced and the patient is again able to perform daily chores.