Arthritis is a general term that describes inflammation in joints. That inflammation is characterized by redness, warmth, swelling, and pain.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a type of chronic arthritis that occurs in joints on both sides of the body (such as hands, wrists, or knees). This symmetry helps distinguish rheumatoid arthritis from other types of arthritis.
In the spring of 2006, Dora Burke finished her first triathlon with competitive results. When her ankle started hurting soon afterward, she chalked it up to the tough race. But in little over a month, this normally healthy, active mom in her 30s could barely move. Without warning, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) had rapidly and fiercely attacked nearly every joint in her body.
"The pain went from one body part, to four body parts," Burke says. "Then pretty immediately it went to the point where I couldn't...
In addition to affecting the joints, rheumatoid arthritis may occasionally affect the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, blood, nerves, or kidneys.
What Are the Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:
Joint pain and swelling
Stiffness, especially in the morning or after sitting for long periods
Rheumatoid arthritis affects everyone differently. In most people, joint symptoms develop gradually over several years. But in some, rheumatoid arthritis may progress rapidly and yet other people may have rheumatoid arthritis for a limited period of time and then enter a period of remission.
Who Gets Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis affects about 1% of the U.S. population. It is three times more common in women than in men. It usually occurs in people 20 to 50 years old, however, young children and the elderly also can develop rheumatoid arthritis.
What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?
The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown, but 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.
Research hasn't been able to determine exactly what role genetics plays in rheumatoid arthritis. However, some people do seem to have a genetic or inherited factor that increases their chance of developing rheumatoid arthritis.