Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints. Although the disease causes joint inflammation in most cases, other organs also may be affected. Rheumatoid arthritis affects several parts of the body equally, which is a distinguishing feature from other types of arthritis, like osteoarthritis. What triggers the body’s immune system to attack its own cells is still unknown. A number of genetic and environmental factors, along with hormones, are thought to be behind this disease. In some cases, the disease seems as though it can be inherited if it runs in the family.
A trigger of the immune system causes the immune cells to move from the system to the different joints in the body. These cells release a number of inflammatory chemicals that results in the inflammation and swelling in the joints. They also cause the cartilage, the cushion between bones in the joints, to wear down. This reduces the space between the two bones in the joints resulting, in friction. It is this friction between the bones that causes acute pain. Inflammation of the joints may also lead to bone damage as the disease progresses.
Rheumatoid arthritis can affect an individual differently depending on the severity of this condition. Some people may be affected by the symptoms, while in others, it may remain in remission and then flare up when appropriate triggers are present.
Some of the characteristic symptoms of this disease include:
- Stiffness in joints – Mobility of the joints is affected by stiffness. Most people have the characteristic morning disability that actually refers to the stiff joints while getting up in the morning.
- Joint swelling – As fluid accumulates in the joints, it results in swelling. This may indirectly lead to stiffness.
- Pain – Arthritic pain is a characteristic feature of the disease, as the joints become sensitive due to inflammation.
Joints of the hands are often affected by this condition. Yet, the symptoms may also be seen in the knees, wrists, shoulders, and jaw. The distinguishing feature of rheumatoid arthritis is that the same joints on both the sides of the body would be affected, unlike other forms of arthritis.
Some other common symptoms of this disease include:
- Lack of hunger
- Muscle pain
- Nodules under the skin, mostly on the elbows
- Inflammation of the lungs