- Get a Grip on Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Take the RA Quiz
- Joint Friendly Exercises for RA
- Rheumatoid Arthritis FAQs
- Patient Comments: Rheumatoid Arthritis - Early Symptoms and Signs
- Patient Comments: Rheumatoid Arthritis - Treatments
- Patient Comments: Rheumatoid Arthritis - Experience
- Patient Comments: Rheumatoid Arthritis - Prognosis
- Patient Comments: Rheumatoid Arthritis - Diet
- Patient Comments: Rheumatoid Arthritis - Diagnosis
- Find a local Rheumatologist in your town
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) facts
- What is rheumatoid arthritis (RA)?
- Rheumatoid arthritis vs. osteoarthritis
- What are rheumatoid arthritis causes and risk factors?
- What are complications of rheumatoid arthritis?
- What are rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and signs?
- How do physicians diagnose rheumatoid arthritis?
- What are the stages of rheumatoid arthritis?
- What is the treatment for rheumatoid arthritis? What types of medications treat RA?
- "First-line" rheumatoid arthritis medications
- "Second-line" or "slow-acting" rheumatoid arthritis drugs (disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs or DMARDs)
- What are newer rheumatoid arthritis treatments?
- Rheumatoid arthritis diet, exercise, home remedies, and alternative medicine
- What about rheumatoid arthritis and pregnancy?
- What is the prognosis for patients with rheumatoid arthritis?
- What are tips for living with rheumatoid arthritis?
- Is it possible to prevent rheumatoid arthritis?
- What specialists treat rheumatoid arthritis (RA)?
- What new information about RA has come from the 2015 national meeting of the American College of Rheumatology?
- What research is being done on rheumatoid arthritis?
- Where can people get additional information on rheumatoid arthritis?
Quick GuideRheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms and Treatment
Rheumatoid arthritis vs. osteoarthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is a destructive joint disease that is caused by inflammation in the tissue that normally produces lubrication fluid for joints. When this tissue remains inflamed, it leads to deformity by loosening joint ligaments and to joint destruction by eroding away cartilage and bone.
Osteoarthritis is a noninflammatory joint disease whereby the cartilage of the joint thins, typically asymmetrically -- so only one knee or hand may be affected. The illustration on the previous page demonstrates the difference between a normal joint and those of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
While rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic illness, meaning it can last for years, patients may experience long periods without symptoms. However, rheumatoid arthritis is typically a progressive illness that has the potential to cause significant joint destruction and functional disability.
A joint is where two bones meet to allow movement of body parts. Arthritis means joint inflammation. The joint inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis causes swelling, pain, stiffness, and redness in the joints. The inflammation of rheumatoid disease can also occur in tissues around the joints, such as the tendons, ligaments, and muscles.
In some people with rheumatoid arthritis, chronic inflammation leads to the destruction of the cartilage, bone, and ligaments, causing deformity of the joints. Damage to the joints can occur early in the disease and be progressive. Moreover, studies have shown that the progressive damage to the joints does not necessarily correlate with the degree of pain, stiffness, or swelling present in the joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a common rheumatic disease, affecting approximately 1.3 million people in the United States, according to current census data. The disease is three times more common in women as in men. It afflicts people of all races equally. The disease can begin at any age and even affects children (juvenile idiopathic arthritis), but it most often starts after 40 years of age and before 60 years of age. Though uncommon, in some families, multiple members can be affected, suggesting a genetic basis for the disorder.