Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disease that primarily affects the joints. The condition can affect people of all ages, but older adults are more likely to be diagnosed because the risk of developing RA increases with age; a special form of RA, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, affects children under 16 years. Men develop rheumatoid arthritis less often than women but tend to have more severe symptoms. The most often affected joints are those of the knuckles, wrists, and feet. As the disease progresses, however, larger joints such as the elbows, knees, and ankles can stiffen as well. Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by the immune system attacking the lining of the joints, the synovium. Over time, the synovium reacts by becoming thicker, damaging the tendons and bones. In addition to joint symptoms, in some people, RA advances to affect tissues and organs, like the skin, heart, lungs, and kidneys, as well.
Joint pain is usually the first sign of rheumatoid arthritis. The joints attacked by the immune system may be visibly swollen and red. Both of these signs support the presence of inflammation but aren't necessarily indicative of the amount of joint inflammation (synovitis). Also, the swelling of joints is not unique to RA; other conditions, including osteoarthritis, can also cause this symptom.
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