Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disease that primarily affects the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis can occur in any age group but occurs most commonly in older adults, and the risk increases with age. Women are at higher risk of getting the condition. It strikes men less frequently, but when they have the disease, they tend to have more severe symptoms. The joints classically affected are the knuckles, and joints of the wrists and feet. As the disease progressives, however, larger joints can become affected, such as the elbows, knees, and ankles.
The immune system attacking the lining of the joints, called the synovium, causes rheumatoid arthritis. Over time, the synovium reacts by becoming thicker, and the tendons and bones become damaged. While some patients with rheumatoid arthritis only involve their joints, RA can be a systemic disease harming other tissues and organs in the body. A rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis involves visiting a physician who takes a comprehensive medical history, performs a physical examination, and orders blood tests to look for markers of inflammation and antibodies associated with RA.
Joint pain is usually the first sign of rheumatoid arthritis. The joints that are being attacked by the immune system may appear swollen compared to normal. There may also be redness. Both of these signs support the presence of inflammation but aren't necessarily indicative of the amount of joint inflammation (synovitis) that's present. Also, swelling of joints is not specific to RA - the same symptom can come from other conditions, such as osteoarthritis.
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