Rheumatoid Arthritis


Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disorder that typically affects the small joints of the hands and feet, but may spread to other areas of the body as well (such progression of the disease may take weeks or months). Rheumatoid arthritis is often characterized by the symmetric distribution of symptoms; for example, if the right hand is affected, then the left hand will also be affected.

Who is at risk?

Rheumatoid arthritis occurs two to three times more often in women than in men; however, men generally experience more severe symptoms. Onset occurs most frequently between the ages of 40 and 60, but the disease may affect people of any age.

Symptoms

Though rheumatoid arthritis primarily affects joints, symptoms may appear in many other areas of the body.

Symptoms that affect the joints

  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Pain

In extreme cases, rheumatoid arthritis can cause destructive symptoms such as deformed joints and eroded bones.

Symptoms that affect other areas of the body

  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Loss of appetite and malaise (general feeling of discomfort)
  • Inflammation of the lungs
    • Shortness of breath may occur.
    • Inflammation of the lining around the heart
    • Rheumatoid nodules
      • Firm lumps that appear on the skin of pressure points (most commonly around the elbows).
      • Hoarse voice caused by the inflammation of the joint of the larynx.
      • Red, painful eyes.

Causes

Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by the immune system incorrectly recognizing and attacking joint linings. The underlying cause is yet to be determined, but is most likely genetic.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis is difficult as the rheumatoid arthritis shares it symptoms with other diseases. Accurate diagnosis requires a variety of tests, such as physical examinations, and blood and urine tests to detect abnormal levels of rheumatoid factor (the antibody present in many RA patients), and x-rays.

sources: http://www.medicinenet.com/rheumatoid_arthritis/article.htm#what_is_rheumatoid_arthritis_ra

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