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Most Common Types of Arthritis

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What Are the Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can come on gradually or start suddenly. Unlike osteoarthritis, symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are often more severe, causing pain, fatigue, loss of appetite, stiffness.

With rheumatoid arthritis, you may feel pain and stiffness and experience swelling in your hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees, ankles, feet, jaw, and neck. Sometimes the pain occurs in one body part. But more commonly, rheumatoid arthritis pain occurs in combinations of several joints such as in the hands, knees, and feet.

With rheumatoid arthritis, the joints tend to be involved in a symmetrical pattern. That is, if the knuckles on the left hand are inflamed, the knuckles on the right hand will also be inflamed. After a period of time, more of your joints may gradually become involved with pain and swelling and may feel warm to the touch. The joint swelling is persistent and interferes with activities. For example, it can interfere with opening a jar, driving, working, and walking -- the very activities that allow us to function in our daily lives.

The stiffness on arising in the morning, which may have started as a temporary nuisance, can soon last for hours or even most of the day. Fatigue can be debilitating. Inflammation can cause reduced appetite and weight loss. Fever, rash, and even involvement of the heart or lungs and eyes can occur with rheumatoid arthritis. These feelings and symptoms -- other than joint pain and the inflammation in other organs -- happen when the damage done by the immune system spills over from the joints to other areas of the body.

What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?

With rheumatoid arthritis, some of your body's cells recognize one of your own proteins as a foreign intruder. The exact protein involved in rheumatoid arthritis has not yet been discovered. Some experts believe the immune system becomes "confused" after infection with a bacteria or virus and begins attacking the normal joint tissues. Certain immune cells called lymphocytes are stimulated to react to this protein. The reaction causes the release of cytokines, which are chemical messengers that trigger more inflammation and destruction. This battle between the body's chemicals occurs mainly in the joints, but it can spread to other areas of the body.

There are many cytokines, but the most important in terms of causing inflammation are tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and interleukin-1. These cytokines are thought to trigger other parts of the immune system in rheumatoid arthritis. Medicines that block TNF, interleukin-1, and interleukin-6 can improve the symptoms and prevent joint damage in rheumatoid arthritis.

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