If you’ve been diagnosed with moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis (RA), it’s beneficial and important to learn about your condition, the ways RA may affect your body, and possible symptoms you may experience. Understanding RA can help you talk with your doctor about choosing the treatment option that’s right for you.
Who does rheumatoid arthritis affect?
More than 1.3 million Americans have RA. It usually appears between the ages of 30 and 50, though it can develop at any age. RA is also 3 times more common among women than men.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease
Normally, your immune system protects your body from bacteria, viruses, and germs. While the exact cause is not known, when you have RA, your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue and cells - primarily affecting the smaller joints of the hands and feet. The membrane surrounding the joint becomes swollen and inflamed, causing the familiar pain, stiffness, swelling, and potential joint damage that many people with RA experience.
Two sides of the story
RA typically occurs in a symmetrical fashion. So if a joint on the right side of the body is inflamed, the left one will likely be, too. RA can occur in any joint, but usually starts in the smaller joints in your fingers, hands, wrists, and feet.
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms may include:
- joint pain
- tender, warm, swollen joints
- morning stiffness lasting hours
The specific joints affected by RA, as well as the frequency and severity of symptoms, can vary from one person to another. For many, the stiffness from RA is worse in the morning and after periods of inactivity.
A chronic disease
Because RA is a progressive disease, the pain, stiffness, and swelling can worsen. While there is currently no cure, there are medicines that can help relieve the symptoms and help perform everyday activities with less difficulty.
Talk to a rheumatologist
It’s important to visit your doctor regularly to help monitor your moderate to severe RA. Be open and honest about your symptoms, how they have changed since your last visit, and how they’re affecting your ability to perform everyday activities. This can help your rheumatologist determine which treatment option is right for you.
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