Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Slideshow
Reviewed by William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR on Thursday, September 22, 2011
Rheumatoid arthritis (often called RA) is a chronic (long-standing) disease that damages the joints of the body.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects approximately 1.3 million people in the United States, with women developing the condition three times more often than men.
Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) is arthritis that causes joint inflammation and stiffness for more than six weeks in a child 16 years of age or younger.
This illustration shows the differences between a normal, healthy joint, a joint affected by osteoarthritis, and one affected by rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms can include fatigue, lack of appetite, low-grade fever, muscle and joint aches, and stiffness.
In rheumatoid arthritis, multiple joints are usually inflamed in a symmetrical pattern (both sides of the body are affected).
Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disease and its inflammation can affect organs and areas of the body other than the joints.
A rheumatologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the nonsurgical treatment of rheumatic illnesses, especially arthritis.
The first step in the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis is a meeting between the doctor and the patient.
The sedimentation rate (sed rate), another blood test for RA, is a measure of how fast red blood cells fall to the bottom of a test tube.
Joint X-rays can also be helpful in monitoring the progression of rheumatoid disease and joint damage over time.
In arthrocentesis, a sterile needle and syringe are used to drain joint fluid out of the joint for study in the laboratory.
There is no known cure for rheumatoid arthritis; however, early medical intervention has been shown to be important in improving outcomes.
Two classes of medications are used in treating rheumatoid arthritis: fast-acting "first-line drugs" and slow-acting "second-line drugs."
Symptomatic pain relief can often be achieved with oral acetaminophen (Tylenol and others) or OTC topical preparations.
The areas of the body, other than the joints, that are affected by rheumatoid inflammation are treated individually.
Surgery may be an option to restore joint mobility and repair damaged joints. In worst-case scenarios, total artificial joint replacement may be needed.
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