What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a progressive inflammatory disease that causes damage to organ and joint tissues, producing pain, disability, and deformity. RA is believed to be caused by a malfunction of the immune system, which is an extremely complex structure of pathways and triggers. RA causes the immune system to attack the body of the patient.
What is it like to have Rheumatoid Arthritis?
There is variety to the pattern of symptoms that RA patients experience. Sometimes, RA attacks only a few joints, allowing a person to adapt to a slight disability. In other people, RA attacks every single joint in a systemic fashion, requiring greater lifestyle changes. Meanwhile, RA often silently attacks the heart or other organs.
Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe. These are common symptoms of RA that most people experience to varying degrees:
- Joint pain
Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment continues for a lifetime, so medications, tests, and doctor visits become an ordinary part of life. Some people respond well to treatment, but most live with some symptoms every day, especially pain.
What is an RA flare?
A Rheumatoid Arthritis flare is a period of active disease. It may be marked by fever, fatigue, joint pain, or swelling. Symptoms may be more obvious in some patients than others. RA activity is inconsistent between patients and even in the same patient over time.
Some patients do not have flares. Disease activity is continuous, without periods of relative inactivity.
It’s important to know that Rheumatoid Arthritis is a progressive disease that causes damage to joints or organs even during periods when disease activity is low or not apparent.
Can you inherit RA?
Not really. Clearly, there is a genetic component, but it is not as straightforward as the inheritance of blue eyes. We could say that one inherits the tendency to contract Rheumatoid Arthritis.
RA has a strong genetic component. (1) Researchers have found several alleles which are strongly associated with Rheumatoid Arthritis. (2) However, everyone who is born with genes that are linked to Rheumatoid Arthritis does not necessarily develop the disease.
Many RA patients have parents, siblings, or grandparents who also have RA. However, some people with RA also say that they are the first person in their family with the disease.
What causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?
The cause of RA is unknown. While a few genetic links have been found, research is still young. Most researchers on RA believe that there are environmental triggers which cause the disease to become active.
Cigarette smoking has been shown to be associated with RA. People who smoke or have smoked or more likely to have RA and those who continue smoking are more likely to have more severe RA.
There are theories of triggers which might be environmental or bacterial. A link between Rheumatoid Arthritis and periodontal disease has been recently explored by scientists. (3)
More information about RA
Detailed medical descriptions and illustrations of Rheumatoid disease activity on the RA page of Dr. Jurgen Harms’ website.
1) "Genetic Basis for Rheumatoid Arthritis." PubMed. December, 2005.
2) Jung, Jeesun; Song, Joon; Kwon, Deukwoo. "Allelic bases gene-gene interactions in rheumatoid arthritis." December, 2009.
3) Detert J, et al.: The association between rheumatoid arthritis and periodontal disease. Arthritis Research & Therapy 2010, 12:218.