Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to attack the body’s own tissues, particularly the delicate tissues that surround joints.

How does RA progress over time?

Rheumatoid arthritis develops the same way in all the affected joints, regardless of how gradually or rapidly the symptoms appear. The disease progresses through the following steps:

  • Synovial tissue becomes inflamed
  • Pannus tissue forms
  • Joint tissues are damaged

What are the signs and symptoms of RA?

  • Inflammation. Joint inflammation from RA tends to be symmetrical, occurring on both sides of the body, and feels worst in the morning. Affected joints may become painful, tender, swollen, stiff, warm to the touch, red in appearance, or spongy when pressed. These symptoms can get worse during a flare-up, which can last for a few days or weeks.
  • Rheumatoid nodules. Firm bumps may appear under the skin, mostly on or near the elbows or fingers. The size of a nodule can be as small as a pea to as large as a walnut.
  • Body-Wise Symptoms. RA affects the body as a whole. General changes in physical well-being may include excessive fatigue, persistent low-grade fever, decreased appetite, unexpected weight loss, decreased muscle tone, and muscle weakness.

What are the common ways to treat RA?

Nonsurgical Treatments

Starting treatment within the first 2 years of symptom onset reduces the risk of severe joint damage. A doctor may recommend the following actions:

  • Stay Active
  • Eat a Healthy Diet
  • Avoid Nicotine
  • Take Medication
  • Sleep and Relax

Surgical Treatments

Surgery may be recommended if RA has caused moderate to severe joint damage that affects day-to-day living.

  • Joint Replacement
  • Synovectomy
  • Arthrodesis

This information is not intended or implied as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images or other information provided is intended for general information purposes only. Always consult with your physician for diagnosis or treatment.