Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a form of arthritis. Main symptoms are pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of function in the joints. The disease can affect any joint but it is common in the wrist and fingers. It usually affects multiple joints symmetrically.

It is a broadly held misconception that rheumatoid arthritis is a condition of the elderly. Actually, RA is different from osteoarthritis, the wear-and-tear arthritis which often comes along with older age and in elderly people. The bulk of new cases diagnosed in women are between the age 55 and 64, in men it is between 65 and 75. As a matter of fact the disease often starts in younger people, frequently aged 25 and 55. Strikingly, more women than men are affected.

Besides the joints, RA can affect many organs and body parts, such as the patient’s eyes, his mouth and lungs, and indeed the heart. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means the disease results from the immune system attacking the body’s own tissues.

No one knows what causes rheumatoid arthritis. Genes, environment and hormones might contribute, and this may be the reason why women are affected much more often than men. Treatments for rheumatoid arthritis include medicine, lifestyle changes and surgery. These can slow or stop joint damage and reduce pain and swelling.

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