Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disease of the joints and the surrounding tissues. It is an autoimmune disease.
Rheumatoid arthritis can occur at any age, but is more common in middle age. Women are more prone to the disease than men.
The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown
. Infection, genes and hormonal changes may be linked to the disease.
Rheumatoid arthritis leads to pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of function in the joints
. Being a systemic disease, it tends to affect other organs in the body as well. Rheumatoid arthritis progresses in 3 stages:
- Stage 1- Swelling of the synovial lining; causing pain, warmth, stiffness, redness and swelling around the joint.
- Stage 2- Rapid division and growth of cells, or pannus; which causes the synovium to thicken.
- Stage 3- The inflamed cells release enzymes that might damage bone and cartilage; often causing the involved joint to lose its shape and alignment, causing more pain and loss of movement.
As there is no specific laboratory test to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis
, the diagnosis is based on patientís medical history and physical examination. The rheumatoid factor (RF)
is found in the blood and synovial fluid of 80% of people with rheumatoid arthritis and can aid in diagnosis.
Rheumatoid arthritis requires lifelong treatment with medications, physical therapy, exercise, education and surgery.
Early, aggressive treatment can delay joint destruction.