Rheumatoid Arthritis

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid Arthritis causes inflammation in the joints and it is considered an autoimmune disease.  This means that the tissues in the body attack the immune system, which results in the inflammation.  Typically, it is the joints and the tissue that become inflamed but other organs can become inflamed, too. When it happens to people under the age of 16 it is called juvenile idiopathic arthritis.

What are the Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?

The first symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis usually include stiffness in the joint or tenderness or swelling.  It is usually more visible in when one is less active or in the mornings.  It often starts with smaller joints like in the fingers or toes.  This can be accompanied by weight loss, fatigue, or fever.

As time progresses, the symptoms often spread to other joints like the knees, elbows, hips, or shoulders.  Most of the time, people feel the symptoms in the joints on each side of the body.

Symptoms can also affect the eyes, skin, kidneys, lungs, salivary glands, and heart.  People who suffer with rheumatoid arthritis may also have complications with blood vessels, nerve tissue, or bone marrow.

Symptoms come and go and can even go into remission.

How is Rheumatoid Arthritis Treated?

There is not a cure for rheumatoid arthritis but it can go into remission for long periods of time with medications.  Disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) can include:

  • Steroids: reduce inflammation and pain; decrease the progress of joint damage
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): reduce inflammation and pain; includes both over-the-counter and prescription variations
  • Disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs): slow down the progress of joint or tissue damage
  • Biologic agents (biologic response modifiers): a new type of DMARDs; targets parts of the immune system to minimize inflammation and damage to tissue or joints

Therapy is another option for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.  Exercises help make joints more flexible and decrease stress on joints.

Surgery is a last resort but can restore damaged joints and fix deformities that result from long term rheumatoid arthritis.  Procedures that may be used include synovectomy, tendon repair, total joint replacement or joint fusion.

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Last Reviewed:
September 14, 2016
Last Updated:
August 23, 2017