Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory disease that causes pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of function in your joints. With RA, your immune system, which normally protects your body by fighting infection and disease, attacks the tissues that line your joints and affects their ability to work properly. Over time, RA may damage bone and cartilage in your joints and weaken your muscles and tendons that support them. RA usually occurs in a symmetrical pattern, which means that if one hand is affected, the other hand is as well.
The exact cause of these conditions are unknown. Many scientists believe that certain factors are involved, such as:
- Genetics - Certain genes passed from parent to child are known to play a role in the development of these conditions, although they are not the only factor.
- Environmental - Some scientists believe there is something environmental (such as an infection) that may trigger a person whose genetic makeup makes them more likely to develop the condition.
- Other factors - Females are more likely to develop RA than males.
The treatment goals for RA are to relieve pain, reduce swelling in the joints, slow down or stop joint damage, and help people feel better and stay active. Medications are taken by mouth or given as a shot and may include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) - Reduce the amount of swelling and quickly relieve pain.
- Corticosteroids - Reduce swelling and help relieve pain over time.
- Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biologic response modifiers (biologics) - Reduce swelling, help relieve pain over time, and slow or prevent joint damage.
Physical therapy also helps preserve joint function and may prevent deformities.