The 10 Types of Arthritis Explained

Similar to osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic joint disease (via Harvard Health). However, rather than being a “wear and tear” condition, rheumatoid arthritis is both an inflammatory and autoimmune disease where the body’s white blood cells attack the cartilage, bones, tendons and ligaments near the joints. . Although the cause of rheumatoid arthritis is still unknown, several theories suggest that it may result from the interaction between an individual’s genes and their environment (per StatPearls). Smoking is the most important environmental risk factor associated with the development of the disease.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include painful, hot, and swollen joints. Joint stiffness is also common and usually worsens in the morning after periods of prolonged inactivity. The early stages of rheumatoid arthritis tend to affect small joints, such as those in the hands and feet. As the disease progresses, other joints in the body may be involved. These include the wrists, knees, ankles, elbows, hips and shoulders.

As rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, around 40% of people will also experience signs and symptoms that do not involve the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, kidneys, and other body systems.

In addition to a history of symptoms and a physical exam, rheumatoid arthritis can be diagnosed with a variety of blood and imaging studies. Although there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, there are a number of treatment options that can slow the progression of the disease. These could include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroids, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), and newer biologics (Humira, Orencia, Simponi), according to Harvard Health.

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