Rheumatoid Arthritis Overview
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic joint disease that damages the joints of the body. It is also a systemic disease that potentially affects internal organs of the body and leads to disability. The joint damage is caused by inflammation of the joint lining tissue. Inflammation is normally a response by the body's immune system to "assaults" such as infections, wounds, and foreign objects. In rheumatoid arthritis, the inflammation is misdirected to attack the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is often referred to as RA.
Rheumatoid arthritis can be confused with other forms of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis or arthritis associated with infections. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. This means that the body's immune system mistakenly attacks the tissues it is supposed to protect.
Rheumatoid arthritis most often affects the smaller joints, such as those of the hands and/or feet, wrists, elbows, knees, and/or ankles, but any joint can be affected. The symptoms often lead to significant discomfort and disability.
Although rheumatoid arthritis most often affects the joints, it is a disease of the entire body. It can affect many organs and body systems besides the joints. Therefore, rheumatoid arthritis is referred to as a systemic disease.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/17/2015
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