Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

Arthritis, with all of its variants, has become the leading cause of disability in the United States and can be crippling in its most severe forms.  Together, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are two of the most common forms of the musculoskeletal disorder and affect millions of people each year.

Arthritis can be generally defined as inflammation of a joint. Any joint can become inflamed for a number of reasons, ranging from past traumatic injuries to the wear on the joint over time. While most people who suffer from these conditions are older adults, this chronic disease can also affect younger patients.

Rheumatoid arthritis differs from other types of arthritis in that it is a disorder of the autoimmune system.  The autoimmune system serves as the body’s first line of defense, attacking any foreign bodies that may pose a threat.  However, in the case of RA, the body essentially attacks itself.  The autoimmune system attacks the synovial membranes, which line every joint of the body.  Attack on this membrane causes inflammation in the joint, leading to orthopedic or musculoskeletal problems.

Symptoms of RA

Based on variables such as activity level or weight, symptoms can vary over time with painful inflammation “flare ups” from time to time. During what some rheumatoid arthritis patients refer to as periods of “remission,” symptoms can virtually disappear. An exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis has not yet been discovered, and women are twice as likely to develop symptoms as men.

The symptoms of RA can be divided into three distinct stages. During stage one, patients experience pain, redness, and swelling of the affected joint. Stage two brings a thickening of the lining within the joint. During stage three, permanent damage can occur, as the bone and cartilage of the joint are attacked by the body’s defenses. General symptoms can also include weakness, loss of appetite, fever, depression, and flu-like symptoms.