Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Catherine Burt Driver, MD
    Catherine Burt Driver, MD

    Catherine Burt Driver, MD

    Catherine Burt Driver, MD, is board certified in internal medicine and rheumatology by the American Board of Internal Medicine. Dr. Driver is a member of the American College of Rheumatology. She currently is in active practice in the field of rheumatology in Mission Viejo, Calif., where she is a partner in Mission Internal Medical Group.

Get a Grip on Rheumatoid Arthritis
Learn about rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and signs.

15 Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Symptoms and Signs

While early symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can actually be mimicked by other diseases, the symptoms are very characteristic of rheumatoid disease. Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and signs include the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Joint tenderness
  • Joint swelling
  • Joint redness
  • Joint warmth
  • Joint stiffness
  • Loss of joint range of motion
  • Limping
  • Joint deformity
  • Many joints affected (polyarthritis)
  • Both sides of the body affected (symmetric)
  • Loss of joint function
  • Anemia
  • Fever

Quick GuideRheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Pictures Slideshow

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Pictures Slideshow

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) facts

  • Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints and other areas of the body.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and signs include
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease characterized by periods of disease flares and remissions.
  • In rheumatoid arthritis, multiple joints are usually, but not always, affected in a symmetrical pattern.
  • Chronic inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis can cause permanent joint destruction and deformity.
  • Damage to joints can occur early and does not always correlate with the severity of RA symptoms.
  • The "rheumatoid factor" is an antibody that can be found in the blood of 80% of people with rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid factor is detected in a simple blood test. Possible risk factors for developing rheumatoid arthritis include genetic background, smoking, silica inhalation, periodontal disease, and microbes in the bowels (gut bacteria).
  • There is no cure for RA. The treatment of rheumatoid arthritis optimally involves a combination of patient education, rest and exercise, joint protection, medications, and occasionally surgery.
  • Medications used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis include NSAIDs, DMARDs, TNF alpha inhibitors, IL-6 inhibitors, T-cell activation inhibitors, B-cell depletors, JAK inhibitors, immunosuppressants, and steroids.
  • Early RA treatment results in a better prognosis.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis can affect people of all ages. The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not known.
Picture of hands affected by rheumatoid arthritis. Notice the joint deformity in the fingers.
Picture of hands affected by rheumatoid arthritis. Notice the joint deformity in the fingers; Image provided by Getty Images

What is rheumatoid arthritis (RA)?

Rheumatoid arthritis definition

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints. Autoimmune diseases are illnesses that occur when the body's tissues are mistakenly attacked by their own immune system. The immune system contains a complex organization of cells and antibodies designed normally to "seek and destroy" invaders of the body, particularly infections. Patients with autoimmune diseases have antibodies and immune cells in their blood that target their own body tissues, where they can be associated with inflammation. While inflammation of the tissue around the joints and inflammatory arthritis are characteristic features of rheumatoid arthritis, the disease can also cause inflammation and injury in other organs in the body. Because it can affect multiple other organs of the body, rheumatoid arthritis is referred to as a systemic illness and is sometimes called rheumatoid disease. Rheumatoid arthritis is a classic rheumatic disease. Rheumatoid arthritis that begins in people under 16 years of age is referred to as juvenile idiopathic arthritis or JIA (formerly juvenile rheumatoid arthritis or JRA).

Pictures of Normal and Arthritic Joints - Rheumatoid Arthritis
Picture of a joint with rheumatoid arthritis
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/18/2016

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