What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints. For some people, the disease lasts for only a few months, or a year or two, and causes no noticeable damage. Others, however, may have a more severe form that can last for a lifetime and cause serious joint damage. Treatment options may involve medication, surgery, or lifestyle changes.

Rheumatoid Arthritis: An Overview

Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that affects the joints, causing pain, swelling, and stiffness. If one knee or hand has the condition, the other usually does, too. This disease often occurs in more than one joint and can affect any joint in the body. People with this disease may feel sick and tired and will sometimes experience fevers.
Some people have rheumatoid arthritis for only a few months, or for a year or two; then it goes away without causing any damage. Other people have periods when the symptoms get worse (flares) and times when they get better (remissions). Others have a severe form that can last for many years or a lifetime; this form of the disease can cause serious joint damage.

Who Gets It?

Anyone can get this disease, although it occurs more often in women. Rheumatoid arthritis often starts in middle-age and is most common in older people. However, children and young adults can also get it.

What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Doctors don't know the exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis. They know that with this type, a person's immune system attacks his or her own body tissues. Researchers are learning many things about why and how this happens. Things that may cause rheumatoid arthritis can include:
  • Genes (passed from parent to child)
  • Environment
  • Hormones.
(Click Causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis for more information.)
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Info on Rheumatoid Arthritis

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