Aching joints are common in arthritis. In rheumatoid arthritis, the joint lining swells, invades surrounding tissues, and produces chemical substances that attack and destroy the joint surface.
People of all ages may be affected. The disease usually begins in middle age.
Rheumatoid arthritis usually affects joints on both sides of the body in the hands and feet, as well as the hips, knees, and elbows. Without proper treatment, rheumatoid arthritis can become a chronic, disabling condition.
Rheumatoid arthritis is not an inherited disease. Researchers believe that some people have genes that make them susceptible to the disease. People with these genes will not automatically develop rheumatoid arthritis. There is usually a "trigger," such as an infection or environmental factor, which activates the genes. When the body is exposed to this trigger, the immune system responds inappropriately. Instead of protecting the joint, the immune system begins to produce substances that attack the joint. This is what may lead to the development of rheumatoid arthritis.
Ligaments and joint capsules become less effective supporting structures. Erosion of the articular cartilage, together with ligamentous changes, result in deformity and contractures. As the disease progresses, pain and deformity increase.
Pain, morning stiffness, swelling, and systemic symptoms are common. Other rheumatoid symptoms include:
•Swelling, pain, and stiffness in the joint, even when it is not being used
•A feeling of warmth around the joint
•Deformities and contractures of the joint
•Symptoms throughout the body, such as fever, loss of appetite and decreased energy
•Weakness due to a low red blood cell count (anemia)
•Nodules, or lumps, particularly around the elbow
•Foot pain, bunions, and hammer toes with long-standing disease
Patients with severe rheumatoid arthritis typically have multiple affected joints in the hands, arms, legs, and feet. Joints of the cervical spine may be involved as well.
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