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What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

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How Does Rheumatoid Arthritis Affect the Body?

Once the immune system is triggered, immune cells migrate from the blood into the joints and joint-lining tissue, called synovium. There the immune cells make inflammatory substances that cause irritation, wearing down of cartilage (the cushioning material at the end of bones), and swelling and inflammation of the joint lining. As the cartilage wears down, the space between the bones narrows. As it gets worse, the bones could rub against each other.

Inflammation of the joint lining causes fluid to build up with the joint. As the lining expands, it may damage the bone.

All of these things cause the joint to become very painful, swollen, and warm to the touch.

How Is Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosed?

Rheumatoid arthritis is diagnosed from a combination of things, including:

  • The location and symmetry of painful joints, especially the hand joints
  • Joint stiffness in the morning
  • Bumps and nodules under the skin (rheumatoid nodules)
  • Results of X-ray tests
  • Blood tests

Most, but not all, people with rheumatoid arthritis have the rheumatoid-factor (RF) antibody in their blood. Rheumatoid factor may sometimes be present in people who do not have rheumatoid arthritis. Therefore, the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis is based on a combination of joint problems, as well as test results.

A newer, more specific blood test for rheumatoid arthritis is the cylic citrulline antibody test, also called anti-CCP. The presence of anti-CCP antibodies suggests a tendency toward a more aggressive form of rheumatoid arthritis.

People with rheumatoid arthritis may have mild anemia. Blood tests may also show an elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) or elevated C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, which are signs of inflammation.

Some people with rheumatoid arthritis may also have a positive antinuclear antibody test (ANA), which indicates an autoimmune disease.  But the test cannot tell which autoimmune disease.

 

How Is Rheumatoid Arthritis Treated?

There are many ways to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Treatments include medications, rest and exercise, and surgery to correct damage to the joint.

The type of treatment will depend on several things, including the person's age, overall health, medical history, and severity of the arthritis.

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