Rheumatoid Arthritis

(RA; Arthritis, Rheumatoid)

Definition

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease. It causes pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of function in the joints.
Rheumatoid Arthritis
rheumatoid arthritis
© 2011 Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

RA is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors that trigger an abnormal immune response. Possible causes include:
  • Genes—People with rheumatoid arthritis may have a specific genetic defect that increases their risk for developing this condition.
  • Defects in the immune system may cause the immune cells to fail to recognize the body’s own tissues.
  • Infection with specific viruses or bacteria that kick off an abnormal immune response.
  • Chemical or hormonal imbalances in the body.

Risk Factors

RA is more common in women, and in people between the ages of 30 and 60. Other factors that may increase your chance of developing RA include:
  • Family members with RA
  • Excess weight or obesity
  • Heavy or long-term smoking

Symptoms

RA causes many symptoms.Joint symptoms include:
  • Increased pain and stiffness in the morning and after inactivity
  • Morning stiffness and pain that lasts more than 30 minutes
  • Red, swollen, warm joints
  • Deformed, misshapen joints
RA may also cause:
  • Intense fatigue, decreased energy
  • Muscle aches
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fever and sweats
  • Insomnia
  • Small lumps or nodules under the skin
Conditions associated with RA include:
  • Sjogren's syndrome —an inflammatory condition involving the tear and salivary glands
  • Felty syndrome—three conditions marked by rheumatoid arthritis, enlarged spleen, and low levels of white blood cells
  • Caplan syndrome—marked by rheumatoid arthritis and pneumoconiosis (lung disease in people exposed to coal mining dust or asbestos)
  • Osteoporosis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Raynaud's disease and phenomenon
  • Muscle inflammation
  • Muscle weakness
  • Kidney disease

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