RA is a systemic, inflammatory disease. Systemic means that many parts of the body can be involved, however, the chief symptom of RA is inflammation (swelling, redness, warmth) of joints in the body, which cause pain and stiffness. RA often affects many joints throughout the body at the same time.
Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by a problem with the immune system, which mistakes your own body tissue as if it were an outside harmful invader (like a virus or bacteria). The immune system attacks your own joints, causing inflammation. Arthritis caused by inflammation often results in pain and stiffness after periods of rest or inactivity, particularly in the morning. The swelling, redness, and warmth may be present in the affected joints, but other areas in the body can be affected by the inflammation as well, such as the eyes and the lining around the heart.
RA is usually treated with a combination of medications to relieve swelling and pain while regulating the immune system. Joint surgery to relieve pain and disability, including joint replacement, may also be considered when these non-surgical methods have failed to provide lasting benefit.
With early detection and intervention, RA and other forms of inflammatory arthritis can be treated very effectively. The HSS Inflammatory Arthritis Center connects patients quickly and efficiently with a rheumatologist who can evaluate their joint pain and get each patient started on an appropriate course of treatment. Hospital for Special Surgery also offers specialized patient education and support programs for RA.
For further information, explore the rheumatoid arthritis content and treating physicians below.