Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis or RA is a form of inflammatory polyarthritis that can lead to joint destruction, deformity, and loss of function. Swelling of the small joints, especially in the hands and feet, is the hallmark of the disease, but most joints in the body can become affected.  In addition to the joints, other manifestations of the disease can be seen including subcutaneous nodules, eye inflammation, lowering of the white blood count, and lung disease. Frequent symptoms include fatigue and joint stiffness, especially in the morning and after prolonged periods of rest.

Without appropriate treatment, chronic pain, disability, and excess mortality are unfortunate outcomes of this disease. RA causes joint damage in 80% to 85% of patients, with the brunt of the damage occurring during the first 2 years of the disease.  Left untreated, the risk of mortality is increased. Untreated people with RA are twice as likely to die compared with unaffected people the same age.

Common causes of mortality in RA include cardiovascular disease, which accounts for approximately one third to one half of RA-related deaths, and infection, which is associated with approximately one quarter of such deaths. RA is also known to be associated with higher risks for lymphoma, anemia, osteoporosis, and depression.

Disease Information

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Updated: December 3, 2012

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