Unless you know someone with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you may not realize it affects more than joints. That’s because it’s more than just a joint disease.
RA is an autoimmune disease. It happens when your immune system, which is supposed to keep you healthy, starts attacking your body’s joints and other tissues.
RA causes joint pain and stiffness -- as does osteoarthritis (OA), the most common form of arthritis. But unlike OA, RA can cause extreme fatigue, fevers, and other, potentially serious health problems throughout your body.
Treatment with one or more types of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) is crucial. These medications suppress your immune system in ways that slow down the disease. Other medications, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), help address symptoms.
RA often attacks the small joints: those in your wrists, hands, and feet. It also tends to strike symmetrically (both sides of the body). So, if you have RA in your left foot, there’s a good chance you’ll have it in your right one.
Don’t dismiss pain or other symptoms in other parts of your body, though. RA can affect any joint. It can also affect your heart, lungs, eyes, and other organs.