Rheumatoid, or inflammatory, arthritis which affects an estimated two million Americans, typically occurs in the hands and feet, resulting in swelling, pain and joint deformities. It is an autoimmune disease (a malfunction in the immune system that causes the body to attack cells), which affects the synovium (the thin membrane that surrounds the joints). But rheumatoid arthritis isn't just about achy joints. It also can affect other parts of the body.

In severe cases, rheumatoid arthritis can cause dangerous heart inflammation (pericarditis)... lung inflammation (pleurisy)...and eye inflammation that can damage sight (scleritis).

People with rheumatoid arthritis should be treated early not only to prevent permanent joint deformities but also to guard against the inflammation-related complications associated with the disorder. Most joint destruction caused by rheumatoid arthritis occurs in the first six to 12 months following diagnosis.

At one time, doctors mainly focused on relieving symptoms with pain medication. Nout: Drug therapies are aimed at curbing the progression of this debilitating disorder.


Rheumatoid arthritis can occur at afiy age. About 75% of sufferers are women, which suggests that hormones may play a role in the disease. Some researchers believe that a viral or bacterial infection may trigger the disorder in some patients. Smoking and stress are thought to contribute to rheumatoid arthritis—but not cause it.

Rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by joint stiffness and swelling, often in symmetrical patterns on both sides of the body. Fatigue and a low-grade fever also may occur.

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