Rheumatoid Arthritis- What is RA?

Rheumatoid Arthritis- What is RA?

Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease which causes inflammation of the joints as well as tissues that surround the joints. RA can cause inflammation in various other organs of the body as well. Autoimmune diseases occur when your body attacks the tissues by mistake. Your immune system is in charge of ridding infections and other symptoms the body feels are invaders. People with these types of diseases have antibodies that attack their own tissue when it associates the invader with inflammation. Rheumatoid arthritis is considered a systemic sickness which is where it gets its name rheumatoid disease.

RA is a chronic disease which means it can last for a very long time, sometimes up to many years. Some people may have lapses of time where the symptoms appear to be gone however, rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive disease and will begin to break down the joints and cause disability.

To understand rheumatoid arthritis you must understand the areas of the body it effects. A joint is a part of the body where 2 bones meet and allow the body to move. The definition of arthritis is the inflammation of the joint. Tendons, muscles and ligaments can also be affected by rheumatoid arthritis. The tissues surrounding these areas become inflamed and cause stiffness, redness and swelling of the joints which can become quite painful.

Some people with rheumatoid arthritis will experience destruction of ligaments, bone and cartilage which will cause deformity of the joints. The damage can occur in early stages of the disease. Due to the progressive nature of RA the longer the disease is present the worse the joint could decay. It has been shown that the pain or swelling of the joints is not related to how long you have suffered with the disease. It can sometimes become quite painful in its early stages.

Rheumatoid arthritis affects around 1.4 million people in the U.S. RA does not discriminate as it can be found in all races of people however, it more common in women than in men. RA can begin as early as childhood in some cases which is known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis although the disease will usually occur in people between 40 and 60 years old. There is a suggestion that RA is genetic.


  • A few rheumatoid arthritis symptoms include stiffness, swelling and pain in the joints.
  • Inflammation can often spread to other organs in the body.
  • If Rheumatoid arthritis treatment is not taken the inflammation can cause permanent damage to the joints and tissues in the body.

There are many kinds of arthritis and you should not confuse rheumatoid arthritis with osteoarthritis or other forms of arthritis that cause infections. RA is an autoimmune disease which means the body attacks tissue that it is meant to protect. Below are a few facts regarding how the bodies immune system reacts when you are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Your immune system produces chemicals and cells that get released into your blood. These cells attack the bodies tissues which it mistakes for an intruder.
  • Because of these attacks they cause inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the joint called the synovium. This inflammation is called synvitis and is the identifier of rheumatoid arthritis.
  • As this membrane expands in the joint it causes damage to the cartilage and bone of the tissues and the joints.

Smaller joints are often targeted by rheumatoid arthritis such as hand, elbow, knee, feet and wrist joints.

  • Activities such as standing, getting dressed, going to the bathroom, walking and doing normal household activities can become a chore if suffering from RA.
  • Your professional career can become affected by rheumatoid arthritis. People suffering from RA have a professional lifespan of 15-20 years depending on the type of work you do.
  • Life expectancy can be shorter for those with RA. Rheumatoid arthritis is not a fatal disease but can be the cause of many other complications therefore shortening your lifespan.

RA does affect the joints however it can be disease that affects many other parts of the body as mentioned above. Other organs can become affected which classifies RA as a systemic disease.

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis can cause damage to the muscles that surround joints causing atrophy which is the shrinking or weakening of the joints. This mostly occurs in the hands. Not using a muscle causes atrophy and is usually brought on by swelling and pain. Deformities can also appear to the bone or tendons most commonly found in the hands or feet. Carpal tunnel is one of the complications of the Rheumatoid Arthritis.
  • Many people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis will begin to see nodules on the joint. These are visible through the skin mostly when a joint is flexed. Purple discoloration on the skin are caused by bleeding from damaged blood vessels. This is called vasculitis and may lead to skin ulcers.
  • Your heart can also be affected by rheumatoid arthritis. The heart muscle, blood vessels or the valves can become inflamed causing heart conditions. Although this is not common it can be severe is some people.
  • Affects on the lungs can appear in several ways. Pleuritis may occur. This is when fluid collects around the lungs. Your lung tissue can become stiff as it called pulmonary fibrosis. Your breathing will become affected if this occurs.
  • Blood vessels can become inflamed and cause havoc on some organs but the most common place blood vessels are affected is in the skin causing skin ulcers.
  • Anemia can be a complication of Rheumatoid Arthritis. This means you have a low red blood cell count and the cells are low in hemoglobin. Hemoglobin carries oxygen to the body through blood.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis will often lead to troubles with the nervous system. The nerves become trapped by inflamed joints. Carpal tunnel is the best example. This can have serious implications.

Symptoms of many forms of autoimmune diseases can come and go. People with rheumatoid arthritis will have good days and will suffer flare ups. The best course of action is to seek treatment if you feel you have any rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. In some cases the disease can be completely cured.


Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA) is the most common form of arthritis for children. It usually will cause few problems but can cause joint damage and pain for children. Some of the most common symptoms of JRA are joint stiffness or a bent joint, joint damage and can cause issues with growth. Activity levels in children suffering from Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis will occur. Weakening muscles and tissues surrounding the joints will occur. Each child is affected in different ways and some children may not have an changes while some will suffer different degrees of symptoms.

The symptoms of Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis will vary from child to child. It is important to take special care when dealing with a child with JRA. There is no set test to determine JRA. A physician may only diagnose juvenile rheumatoid arthritis if there is constant arthritis pain in multiple joints for at lease one month and all other sicknesses are ruled out. There are three types of JRA.

  • Pauciarticular – This affects four or less joints.
  • Polyarticular – This affects five or more joints.
  • Systemic onset JRA – This affects at least one joint and is coupled with inflammation of other organs.

If you think your child may have Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, please visit a physician as soon as possible.