Rheumatoid Arthritis

Allie Riley


Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that affects synovial tissue around the joints. The disease causes the body's immune system to mistake its own tissues as foreign substances, therefor developing antibodies to destroy these tissues. RA causes chronic swelling and pain that can vary in severity, and can lead to permanent disability. The disease can also destroy organ tissue, such as the heart. Rheumatoid arthritis has been affecting humans since the time of the early Egyptians and Indians. The disease has been found referenced in medical texts and discovered in mummified bodies. The disease was named rheumatoid arthritis by an English physician named Sir Alfred Garrot in 1859.The name helps to distinguish it from other forms of arthritis.

Affected Body Parts

Rheumatoid arthritis generally affects the small joints of the hands and feet by destroying the tissue around the joints. Rheumatoid nodules can appear under the skin or in areas such as the heart and lungs. Rheumatoid arthritis can cause inflammation of blood vessels (vasculitis). Since it is an autoimmune disease, it can affect any area of the body.


  • Tender, warm, and swollen joints

  • Morning stiffness in joints that may last for hours

  • Firm bumps of tissue under the skin on your arms (rheumatoid nodules)

  • Fatigue, fever and weight loss

  • over time the disease causes joints to deform and move out of place

  • if a joint is affected on one side of the body then the same joint is generally affected on the other side

  • symptoms can vary in severity


Rheumatoid arthritis is difficult to diagnose during the early stages of the disease because it's symptoms are common among many other diseases. To diagnose the disease during its later stages, joints are checked for swelling and warmth. Doctors may also check the patient's reflexes and muscle strength. Certain blood tests can test for an elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate, which indicates abnormal inflammation that may be caused by rheumatoid arthritis. X-rays are also used to track the progression of the disease.


There is no known cure for rheumatoid arthritis. Pain relievers are often used to relieve the swelling and pain caused by the disease. If joints become too damaged, surgery may be necessary. Physical therapy is used to keep joints flexible and make normal tasks easier to perform. There is not a known way to prevent the disease, mostly because its causes are vastly unknown.


People affected with rheumatoid arthritis often have increased risks of heart disease, rheumatoid vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels), and inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis). The disease can cause a higher risk of lymphoma and lung cancer. Patients with the disease often have to make frequent trips to the doctor to track the disease's progression. The disease can shorten a lifespan by up to 10 years, depending on when diagnosis occurs. People diagnosed at a younger age tend to progress faster.


  • 41 out of every 100,000 people are affected with rheumatoid arthritis
  • 1.3 million Americans have the disease
  • women are 2.5 times more likely to get the disease than men
  • the disease generally starts between ages 30 and 60 in women, later in life for men
  • men have a 3% risk of developing the disease, women are at 4%
  • more than 300,000 children are affected with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis

New Terms

rheumatoid- any disorder of the extremities or back, characterized by pain and stiffness

nodule- a small, rounded mass or lump

vasculitis- inflammation of veins, arteries, capillaries, or lymph vessels

lymphoma- a tumor arising from any of the cellular elements of lymph nodes

myocarditis- inflammation of the myocardium (the muscular substance of the heart)

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