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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a long-term (chronic) disease that causes inflammation of the joints. The inflammation can be so severe that it affects how the joints and other parts of the body look and function. In the hand, RA may cause deformities in the joints of the fingers. This makes moving your hands difficult. Lumps, known as rheumatoid nodules, may form anywhere in the body.
Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) is a form of arthritis in children ages 16 or younger. It causes inflammation and joint stiffness that last for more than 6 weeks. Unlike adult RA, which lasts a lifetime, children often outgrow JRA. But the disease can affect bone development in a growing child.
The exact cause of RA is not known. RA is an autoimmune disorder. This means the body's immune system attacks its own healthy cells and tissues. This causes inflammation in and around the joints. This may damage the skeletal system. RA can also damage other organs, such as the heart and lungs. Researchers think certain factors, including heredity, may be a factor.
RA most often occurs in people from ages of 30 to 50, but it can occur at any age. It happens more in women than in men.
The joints most often affected by RA are in the hands, wrists, feet, ankles, knees, shoulders, and elbows. The disease often causes inflammation in the same areas on both sides of the body. Symptoms may begin suddenly or slowly over time. Each person’s symptoms may vary, and may include:
These symptoms can seem like other health conditions. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Diagnosing RA may be difficult in the early stages. This is because symptoms may be very mild, and signs of the disease may not be seen on X-rays or in blood tests. Your healthcare provider will take your medical history and give you a physical exam. Tests may also be done, such as:
Your healthcare provider will figure out the best treatment for you based on:
There is no cure for RA. The goal of treatment is often to limit pain and inflammation, and help ensure function. You may have 1 or more types of treatments. Treatment may include:
In some cases, surgery may be an option if other treatments don’t work. Surgery does not cure RA. It helps correct the deformities caused by the disease. After surgery, RA can still cause problems. You may even need more surgery. Joint repair or reconstruction can be done in many ways, including:
Because RA damages joints over time, it causes some disability. It can cause pain and movement problems. You may be less able to do your normal daily activities and tasks. This can also lead to problems such as depression and anxiety.
RA can also affect many nonjoint parts of the body, such as the lungs, heart, skin, nerves, muscles, blood vessels, and kidneys. These complications can lead to severe illness and even death.
There is no cure for RA. But it is important to help keep your joints working well by reducing pain and inflammation. Work on a treatment plan with your healthcare provider that includes medicine and physical therapy. Work on lifestyle changes that can improve your quality of life. Lifestyle changes include:
Tell your healthcare provider if your symptoms get worse or you have new symptoms.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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