Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a long-term disease that leads to inflammation of the joints and surrounding tissues. It can also affect other organs.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
The cause of RA is unknown. It is an autoimmune disease, which means the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue.
RA can occur at any age, but is more common in middle age. Women get RA more often than men. Infection, genes, and hormone changes may be linked to the disease.
RA usually affects joints on both sides of the body equally. Wrists, fingers, knees, feet, and ankles are the most commonly affected.
The disease often begins slowly, usually with only minor joint pain, stiffness, and fatigue.
Joint symptoms may include:
- Morning stiffness, which lasts more than 1 hour, is common. Joints may feel warm, tender, and stiff when not used for an hour.
- Joint pain is often felt on the same joint on both sides of the body.
- Over time, joints may lose their range of motion and may become deformed.
Other symptoms include:
- Chest pain when taking a breath (pleurisy)
- Dry eyes and mouth (Sjogren's syndrome)
- Eye burning, itching, and discharge
- Nodules under the skin (usually a sign of more severe disease)
- Numbness, tingling, or burning in the hands and feet
Additional information available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001467/