Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammation of the membranes or tissues lining the joints. Over time, rheumatoid arthritis may destroy the joint tissues, including cartilage, ligaments, tendons and bone, and, in rare but severe cases, may cause organ damage.

The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Painful, swollen, stiff joints. The same joints on both sides of the body (symmetrical) are usually affected, especially the hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, and feet.
  • Morning stiffness. Joint stiffness may develop after long periods of sleeping or sitting and may last at least 60 minutes and often up to several hours.
  • Formation of bumps (nodules) in the pressure points on the body, such as the elbows, knuckles, spine, and lower leg bones.
  • Fatigue, a general feeling of illness (malaise), mild fever, a loss of appetite, and weight loss.

Medication may help control rheumatoid arthritis or prevent the disease from getting worse, which can reduce the risk of permanent disability. Surgery may be needed for severely deformed joints.

Last Updated: August 18, 2008

Author: Shannon Erstad, MBA/MPH

Medical Review: Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & Stanford M. Shoor, MD - Rheumatology

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