Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes pain, swelling, and stiffness in joints. It may also cause flu-like symptoms, including debilitating fatigue and low-grade fever.
Like all autoimmune diseases, rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body’s immune cells mistakenly attacking healthy tissues. In RA, the immune system attacks the delicate lining of the joints, called synovial lining. The lining becomes inflamed, leading to joint pain and other symptoms.
Rheumatoid arthritis is most likely to affect the small joints of the hands and feet. Larger joints, such as the knees and elbows, may also be affected. Joint symptoms are often symmetrical—so if the right wrist is affected the left wrist will also likely be affected. Left untreated, RA can cause significant joint mobility issues and joint deformities.
People who have rheumatoid arthritis are at an increased risk of developing certain medical conditions, such as inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart (pericarditis), inflammation in the lining of the lungs (pleuritis), inflammation of the blood vessels (vasculitis).
People with RA can often lead full lives that include working, raising families, and participating in hobbies. While there is no cure for RA, early diagnosis and treatment can significantly slow the progression of the disease. Treatment recommendations typically involve prescription medications. Occupational therapy and lifestyle changes, such as making changes to diet, exercise, and sleeping habits, can also have a significant impact on symptoms and overall well-being.