Arthritis is the name for a set of conditions that cause inflammation of the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune type of joint inflammation in which the body's immune system attacks its own joints, causing swelling and stiffness. This can lead to joint damage, chronic pain, and eventually loss of joint function.
Rheumatoid arthritis usually affects the hands, feet, hips, knees, and elbows on both sides of the body but it can affect any joint and may even affect other body organs. Rheumatoid arthritis is an ongoing condition for which there is no cure but early treatment can limit joint damage and allow rheumatoid arthritis sufferers to live long, productive lives.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects 1.3 million Americans and is two to three times more common in women than in men. People of all ages may be affected by rheumatoid arthritis but the disease usually begins between the ages of 40 and 60. When RA occurs between the ages of 6 months and 16 years it is called juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is not a normal consequence of aging and is not caused by excessive wear-and-tear on joints.
Continued on page 2: What are the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis?