Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic disease that causes inflammation of the joints. The inflammation can be so severe that the function and appearance of the hands and other parts of the body can be affected. In the hand, RA may cause deformities in the joints of the fingers. This makes moving the hands difficult. Lumps, known as rheumatoid nodules, may form over small joints in the hands and the wrist. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) is a form of arthritis in children ages 16 or younger that causes inflammation and stiffness of joints for more than six weeks. Unlike adult RA, which is chronic and lasts a lifetime, children often outgrow JRA. However, the disease can affect bone development in the growing child.
The exact cause of RA is not known. RA is an autoimmune disorder. This means the body's immune system attacks its own healthy cells and tissues. This causes inflammation in and around the joints. It then may lead to a damage of the skeletal system. RA can also cause damage to other organs, such as the heart and lungs. Researchers think certain factors, including heredity, may contribute to the onset of the disease.
RA most often occurs in people from ages of 30 to 50. It happens more in women than in men.
The joints most often affected by RA are in the hands, wrists, feet, ankles, knees, shoulders, and elbows. The disease often causes inflammation in the same areas on both sides of the body. Symptoms of RA may begin suddenly or slowly over time. Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each person, and may include:
The symptoms of RA can be like other health conditions. Make sure to see your health care provider for a diagnosis.
Treatment will depend on your symptoms, your age, and your general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is. A treatment plan is tailored to you with your health care provider.
There is no cure for RA. The goal of treatment is often to limit pain and inflammation, and help ensure function. You may have one or more types of treatments. Treatment may include:
In some cases, surgery may be an option if other treatments do not work. Surgery does not cure RA. It helps correct the deformities caused by the disease. After surgery, RA can continue to cause problems in the hand, and may even require more surgery. Repair or reconstruction of the hand and wrist can be done in a variety of ways, including:
Because RA damages joints over time, it causes some disability. It can cause pain and movement problems that cause a person to be less able to carry out normal daily activities and tasks. This can also lead to problems such as depression and anxiety.
Although there is no cure for RA, it is important to help keep joints functioning by reducing pain and inflammation. Work on a treatment plan with your health care provider that includes medication and physical therapy. Work on lifestyle changes that can improve your quality of life. Lifestyle changes include:
If your symptoms get worse or you have new symptoms, let your healthcare provider know.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:
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