What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is a common form of arthritis. It’s also an autoimmune disorder, meaning your immune system mistakenly attacks your tissues and joints. In RA, the lining of joints is affected and swells. Typically, it affects many different joints throughout the body and can cause damage to the cartilage, bone, tendons and ligaments of the joints.

RA is a chronic disease, meaning once you are diagnosed you will have RA for the rest of your life. Symptoms may change day by day, but some degree of arthritis is always present. Some people experience RA in flares—with periods of severe symptoms (flares) and then periods of mild symptoms. In some patients, the disease is continuously active and gets worse over time.

Rheumatoid Arthritis most commonly begins in the 30s and 40s, but children can have RA as well. More women are diagnosed with RA than men, and RA occurs in all ethnic groups and in all parts of the world.

RA symptoms include:

  • Joint pain, stiffness, swelling
  • Affected areas may be red or feel warm
  • Stiffness may be worse in the morning
  • Loss of appetite or weight
  • Low-grade fever or flu-like symptoms
  • Weakness, low energy

People with RA also may develop rheumatoid nodules. These nodules are lumps of tissue that form under the skin. They occur most often around the elbow but can be found elsewhere on the body such as on the fingers, over the spine or on the feet.

If your RA is untreated or does not respond well to treatment, cartilage, bone, tendons and ligaments can suffer damage. Joints may become deformed and cause disability which can be permanent.

There is no single test that can show an RA diagnosis. Your doctor will ask for your medical history, perform a physical examination and ask if you have had certain symptoms. The doctor will look for certain features of RA, including swelling, warmth and limited motion in joints throughout your body, as well as nodules or lumps under the skin.

Your doctor also may order:

  • Blood tests

    – looking for certain factors that show inflammation in the body

  • X-rays

    – looking for joint damage, bone loss at the edges of joints, and loss of joint cartilage

The goal of treatment is not just to treat your symptoms but to treat the entire disease to help prevent damage and disability. Early diagnosis is very important to help prevent damage as well, so if you suspect you may have RA, call us today at 215-657-6776, or call your primary doctor first if your insurance requires a referral.