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Rheumatoid Arthritis

​​​​​​​​​Rheumatoid arthritis attacks joints and can result in loss of joint function.

This disorder needs treatment before it destroys the joint.

Marshfield Clinic Orthopedic specialist treat severe cases of rheumatoid arthritis.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a disease that affects the synovium, the lining of the joints. This causes pain, swelling, and stiffness. Left untreated, rheumatoid arthritis may damage joints so badly that they no longer function. This disease appears most often in young-adult to middle-age women.

Back view of hand with large joints. Closeup of inside of joint showing inflamed joint lining.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining (synovium) of the joints, sometimes causing swelling.

What causes RA?

RA is an autoimmune disorder. This means the immune system, which normally protects the body, actually causes harm. In RA, the immune system attacks the joint lining. The reason for this is unknown. Researchers believe it is a combination of genes (what is inherited from parents) and environment (for example, having infections from viruses or bacteria). Also, people who smoke or are overweight have an increased risk of developing RA.

What are the symptoms of RA?

Rheumatoid arthritis can affect most joints. The hands, wrists, elbows, knees, and balls of the feet are common sites. This disease often affects the same joint on both sides of the body. Symptoms may include:

  • Tender, swollen inflamed joints. They may also look red and feel warm.

  • Stiff joints. Long periods of rest or using a joint too long or too hard can make stiffness worse.

  • Joints that have lost normal shape and motion.

  • Feeling tired.

How is RA diagnosed?

To diagnose rheumatoid arthritis, your health care provider will ask you a lot of questions about your medical history and current symptoms. He or she will examine you, paying close attention to your joints. You will also have blood tests and X-rays. Your provider will likely recommend that you see a rheumatologist, an arthritis specialist.

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Rheumatoid Arthritis Quiz

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic disease that affects 1.5 million Americans. It has no cure, but it can be controlled by a range of treatments. Learn more about RA by taking this quiz. It's based on information from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

1. One characteristic of RA is that it usually affects the same joints on both sides of the body. If one hand is involved, the other one is, too.
2. RA always gets worse over time.
3. RA is an autoimmune disease.
4. RA is 2 to 3 times more common in women than in men.
5. If you have a family history of RA, you are more likely to get it yourself.
6. RA may be difficult to diagnose when symptoms first show up.
7. The medical specialist who treats people with RA is the endocrinologist.
8. Having RA may raise your risk for osteoporosis.
9. Eating certain foods can help ease RA symptoms.

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