What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

NewsGuard 100/100 Score

Rheumatoid arthritis or RA is an inflammatory condition that affects joints primarily leading to pain and stiffness and difficulty in movements. Commonly affected joints are those of the hands, feet and wrists. RA however can also affect other parts of the body.

Rheumatoid arthritis | NHS

Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis

RA mainly causes swelling, stiffness and pain in the affected joints. The sufferer usually feels mild stiffness and difficulty in movement initially that mainly occurs in the morning on waking up. This is called morning stiffness.

Slowly the symptoms may worsen as the joint is affected to a greater extent leading to severe pain on movements and difficulty in performing daily tasks.

Symptoms may suddenly worsen. This is called a flare up. Flare ups may be sudden and without warning and may worsen symptoms to a great extent leading to severe disability.

Pathology of rheumatoid arthritis

RA is an autoimmune disease. The body’s immune system acts as the defence system in the body attacking foreign microbes and proteins. In some disorders, this immune system turns on the body’s own cells and proteins and begins to attack and destroy them. In RA, the immunity attacks the cells that line the joints and make them swollen, inflamed and stiff. This leads to severe pain.

Cartilage and synovium forms a cushion that acts as a shock absorber in the joints. Autoimmunity and inflammatory processes of RA commonly affect these cartilages and synovial cells and damage them. Lack of these elements in the joint, leads to increased friction and damage to the joint.

Rheumatoid arthritis epidemiology

RA affects nearly 600,000 people in England and Wales and affects females between ages 40 and 70 more commonly than males. Worldwide, females are three times more likely to suffer from RA than males.

RA however can affect younger persons. Worldwide around 1% of the total population are affected by this condition.

Diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis

Diagnosis is primarily suspected with presence of signs and symptoms. There are however several symptoms of RA that are common with other types of autoimmune disorders and arthritis. These diagnoses need to be ruled out before confirming RA. Blood tests including those for Rheumatoid factor and imaging studies like X rays are used for diagnosis of RA.

Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis

Usually treatment is performed by a rheumatologist and his or her team that includes orthopaedic surgeons, physiotherapists, physical medicine specialists, occupational and behavioral therapists and counsellors.

There is no cure for RA. An early diagnosis and treatment can help control symptoms and prevent debility and disability to a great extent. Treatment can be given using medications. This is the commonest modality of therapy.

Medications are prescribed to relieve joint stiffness and pain. Anti-inflammatory agents like Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDs) include painkillers relieve pain as well as inflammation. There are several medications that oppose the autoimmune status and prevent the progression of the disease.

Surgery is advised to correct joint deformities and supportive treatments like physiotherapy is offered to obtain maximum movement benefit from the joint. There are complementary methods like acupuncture and massages that many people find beneficial.

Further Reading

Last Updated: Jul 7, 2023

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

Citations

Please use one of the following formats to cite this article in your essay, paper or report:

  • APA

    Mandal, Ananya. (2023, July 07). What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?. News-Medical. Retrieved on May 23, 2024 from https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Rheumatoid-Arthritis.aspx.

  • MLA

    Mandal, Ananya. "What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?". News-Medical. 23 May 2024. <https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Rheumatoid-Arthritis.aspx>.

  • Chicago

    Mandal, Ananya. "What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?". News-Medical. https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Rheumatoid-Arthritis.aspx. (accessed May 23, 2024).

  • Harvard

    Mandal, Ananya. 2023. What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?. News-Medical, viewed 23 May 2024, https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Rheumatoid-Arthritis.aspx.

Comments

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
Post a new comment
Post

While we only use edited and approved content for Azthena answers, it may on occasions provide incorrect responses. Please confirm any data provided with the related suppliers or authors. We do not provide medical advice, if you search for medical information you must always consult a medical professional before acting on any information provided.

Your questions, but not your email details will be shared with OpenAI and retained for 30 days in accordance with their privacy principles.

Please do not ask questions that use sensitive or confidential information.

Read the full Terms & Conditions.

You might also like...
Pregnant women with autoimmune conditions at a greater risk of developing adverse pregnancy outcomes, study suggests