Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
Medical Author: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis can also cause inflammation of the tissue around the joints, as well as in other organs in the body. Autoimmune diseases are illnesses that occur when the body tissues are mistakenly attacked by its own immune system. The immune system is 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 in their blood that target their own body tissues, where they can be associated with inflammation. 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.While rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic illness, meaning it can last for years, patients may experience long periods without symptoms. Typically, however, rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive illness that has the potential to cause joint destruction and functional disability.