What is rheumatoid arthritis (RA)?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that can get worse over time

Normally, the immune system protects the body from bacteria, viruses, and germs. In an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues and cells. The exact cause is not known. In RA, the immune system mostly attacks the smaller joints of the hands and feet. The membrane surrounding the joint becomes swollen and inflamed. This causes pain, stiffness, swelling, and potential joint damage.

RA is a progressive disease. This means the pain, stiffness, and swelling can get worse over time. While there is currently no cure, there are medicines that can help relieve the symptoms and help you perform everyday activities with less difficulty.

Watch this video

to see how, over time, RA can cause inflammation of the joint lining, damaging cartilage and bone.

Who is affected by rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis affects the same joints on both sides of the body

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
  • Weakness

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.