Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that affects your joints. Joints are where two or more bones join together, such as at your knees, hips, or shoulders. Rheumatoid arthritis causes pain, swelling, and stiffness. If joints on one side of your body have rheumatoid arthritis, usually those joints on the other side do too. This disease often occurs in more than one joint. It can affect any joint in the body.
If you have this disease, you also may feel sick and tired, and sometimes get fevers.
Anyone can get this disease, though it occurs more often in women. Rheumatoid arthritis often starts in middle age and is common in older people. But children and young adults can also get it.
Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, which can range from mild to severe, include:
Doctors don't know the exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis. They know that with this type of arthritis, a person's immune system attacks his or her own body tissues. The immune system normally attacks invaders to the body, such as a cold virus or bacteria. Researchers are learning many things about why and how this happens. Things that may cause rheumatoid arthritis are:
Rheumatoid arthritis can be hard to diagnose because:
To diagnose rheumatoid arthritis, doctors use medical history, a physical exam, x-rays and other imaging tests, and lab tests.
Doctors have many ways to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Treatment may involve:
The goals of treatment are to:
Most people with rheumatoid arthritis take medicine. Drugs can be used for pain relief, to reduce swelling, and to stop the disease from getting worse. What a doctor prescribes depends on:
There are many kinds of surgery for people with a lot of joint damage. Surgery may:
Surgery is not for everyone. Talk with your doctor to decide what is best for you.
Regular medical care is important so doctors can:
Special diets, vitamins, and other complementary therapies are sometimes suggested to treat rheumatoid arthritis.
Many of these treatments are not harmful, but they may not be well tested or have any real benefits.
Ask your doctor about things you can do to manage your pain, such as exercise programs, support groups, and education classes. Before starting any complementary therapy, talk with your doctor to make sure it isn’t harmful.
Several types of health care professionals may treat you, including:
With rheumatoid arthritis, you can still lead a full life. Besides going to your doctor and therapists regularly, you can also do these activities to help reduce your symptoms.
Look for ways to reduce stress on your joints. Some people find wearing a splint around a painful joint for a short time helps. Talk with your doctor to see if a splint may work for you. In addition, some special equipment can help such as a zipper puller or long-handled shoe horn.
Keep a good balance between rest and activity. Try to take frequent breaks, especially when your symptoms are bothering you.
Try to lower your stress by taking the time to relax, doing hobbies you enjoy, or joining a support group. Support groups can reduce your stress by helping you to:
Eat a healthy diet which will help you manage your weight and get a variety of nutrients for overall health.
You may also experience other health problems as a result of your rheumatoid arthritis. Be sure to talk with your doctor if any of these occur.
Many people with rheumatoid arthritis may also have:
Other effects that occur less often include:
Very rarely, people may have inflammation of their: