What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Arthritis means inflammation in a joint. Joint inflammation causes redness, warmth, swelling, and pain within the joint.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a type of chronic arthritis that occurs in joints on both sides of the body (such as both hands, both wrists, or both knees). This symmetry helps distinguish rheumatoid arthritis from other types of arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis may also affect the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, blood, or nerves.
What Are the Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are:
- Joint pain and swelling
- Stiffness, especially in the morning or after sitting for long periods
Rheumatoid arthritis affects everyone differently. For some, joint symptoms develop gradually over several years. In others, rheumatoid arthritis may develop quickly, while other people may have rheumatoid arthritis for a short time and then have a time with no symptoms, called remission.
Who Gets Rheumatoid Arthritis?
About 1% of Americans have rheumatoid arthritis. It is an autoimmune disease, meaning the body's immune system attacks its own healthy tissues. Rheumatoid arthritis is two to three times more common in women than in men, but men tend to have more severe symptoms. It usually happens in middle age, but young children and the elderly also can get rheumatoid arthritis.
What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?
The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown. It is thought to be due to a combination of genetic, environmental, and hormonal factors. With rheumatoid arthritis, something seems to trigger the immune system to attack the joints and sometimes other organs. Some theories suggest that a virus or bacteria may alter the immune system, causing it to attack the joints. Other theories suggest that smoking may lead to rheumatoid arthritis.
Research hasn't found exactly what role genetics plays in rheumatoid arthritis. Some people do seem to have a genetic or inherited factor that increases their chance of developing rheumatoid arthritis.