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Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

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 U.S., with women developing the
condition three times more than men.

Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) causes joint
inflammation and stiffness for more than six weeks in a
child aged 16 or younger.

An example showing the differences between a normal,
healthy joint, a joint affected by osteoarthritis, and one
affected by rheumatoid arthritis.

Even though infectious agents such as viruses, bacteria,
and fungi have long been suspected, the cause of
rheumatoid arthritis is unknown.

The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis come and go,
depending on the degree of tissue inflammation.

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 non-surgical treatment of rheumatic illnesses,
especially arthritis.

The first step in the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis is
a meeting between the doctor and the patient.

A newer, more specific blood test for rheumatoid
arthritis is the citrulline antibody test.

Another blood test for RA called the sedimentation rate
(sed rate), 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.

A balance of rest and exercise is important in
treating rheumatoid arthritis.

Surgery may be an option to restore joint mobility,
repair damaged joints, or in worst case scenarios, total
artificial joint replacement.