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MAIN Arrow to Health Health Arrow to Diseases & Conditions Diseases & Conditions Arrow to Arthritis Arthritis Arrow to Rheumatoid Arthritis Rheumatoid Arthritis

illustation showing inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis
In this cross-section of a knee joint, rheumatoid
arthritis begins as inflammation of the synovial
membrane, followed by damage to cartilage.


Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the body's own immune system attacks healthy joint tissue. It is a chronic condition that often affects people between the ages of 40 and 60. It is a progressive condition that characterized by joint pain and inflammation.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, rheumatoid arthritis affects 1.3 million people in the United States. The cause of rheumatoid arthritis remains unknown although several factors may play a role in the development of the condition. According to, rheumatoid arthritis is 2 to 3 times more common in women than in men.

Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms

Rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive health condition that develops in stages, growing progressively worse. Rheumatoid arthritis begins with swelling of the synovial lining of the joints causing pain and stiffness. As the lining thickens and the condition continues to progress, the result is often loss of movement in the affected joints.

Fever can occur and fatigue is also a common symptom.

There are often periods where rheumatoid arthritis flares up and symptoms are at their worst. Then the condition can go into a period of remission where there are no apparent symptoms and the condition is not troublesome.

The inflammation pattern of rheumatoid arthritis is symmetrical which means that it affects both sides of the body at the same time.

photos of hand and fingers deformed by rheumatoid arthritis
These photos illustrate the early, middle, and late stages of rheumatoid
arthritis as joints become enlarged and fingers deformed.

Over time, rheumatoid arthritis can cause limited mobility and impaired function of affected joints. Rheumatoid arthritis can also affect the heart and lungs. Small lumps of tissue known as nodules may develop under the skin. These nodules may vary in size.

Rheumatoid arthritis treatment

Medications such as immunosuppressants can help to control the immune system from attacking healthy joint tissue by eliminating cells associated with the disease. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to repair damaged joints. Patients diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis should discuss treatment options with a physician.

A physical examination, family history, blood tests and x-rays are used to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis. Unfortunately, there is no cure for the condition. However, medications such as anti-inflammatory drugs and steroids can help reduce the most painful symptoms. If the disease is detected early enough, there are drugs that can help slow the condition and possibly even prevent permanent damage.

Besides drugs and medications, suggested alternative remedies for rheumatoid arthritis include Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oils. While it is too early to tell if Vitamin D supplements are beneficial to rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, studies have shown the group to be highly deficient in this important nutrient. Light exercise is also often recommended to help keep joints strong and limber.

About the author: Darlene Zagata

also see in The Human Body -> The Human Skeleton

also see -> Alternative pain relief | Lupus

More about rheumatoid arthritis around the Web:


Handout on Health: Rheumatoid arthritis - Extensive fact sheet with illustrations, information and detailed overview of medications along with their uses and side effects, suggested home remedies and lifestyle changes, and related resources.

Alternative Medicine - Rheumatoid Arthritis - Information on causes, symptoms, and traditional drug therapies with more on nutritional, vitamin and herbal remedies, acupuncture, massage and physical therapy, with related references and supporting research.

This information is intended as reference and not as medical advice.
All treatment decisions should be made by medical professionals.

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