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Rheumatoid arthritis


Definition:

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a long-term disease that leads to inflammation of the joints and surrounding tissues. It can also affect other organs.

Alternative Names:

RA; Arthritis - rheumatoid

Signs and tests:

There is no test that can determine for sure whether you have RA. Most patients with RA will have some abnormal test results, although for some patients, all tests will be normal.

Two lab tests that often help in the diagnosis are:

Other tests that may be done include:

Support Groups:

See: Arthritis support group

Expectations (prognosis):

How well a person does depend on the severity of symptoms.

People with rheumatoid factor, the anti-CCP antibody, or subcutaneous nodules seem to have a more severe form of the disease. People who develop RA at younger ages also seem to get worse more quickly.

Without proper treatment, permanent joint damage may occur. However, early treatment with many of the newer medicines have decreased joint pain and damage.

Complications:

Rheumatoid arthritis can affect nearly every part of the body. Complications may include:

  • Damage to the lung tissue (rheumatoid lung)
  • Increased risk of hardening of the arteries
  • Spinal injury when the neck bones become damaged
  • Inflammation of the blood vessels (rheumatoid vasculitis), which can lead to skin, nerve, heart, and brain problems
  • Swelling and inflammation of the outer lining of the heart (pericarditis) and of the heart muscle (myocarditis), which can lead to congestive heart failure

The treatments for RA can also cause serious side effects. Talk to your doctor about the possible side effects of treatment and what to do if they occur.

Calling your health care provider:

Call your health care provider if you think you have symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

Prevention:

There is no known prevention. Proper early treatment can help prevent further joint damage.

References:

Huizinga TW, Pincus T. In the clinic. Rheumatoid arthritis. Ann Intern Med. 2010 Jul 6;153(1).

Scott DL, Wolfe F, Huizinga TW. Rheumatoid arthritis. Lancet. 2010 Sep 25;376(9746):1094-108.

Harris ED Jr, Firestein GS. Clinical features of rheumatoid arthritis. In: Firestein GS, Budd RC, Harris ED Jr, et al., eds. Kelley's Textbook of Rheumatology. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:chap 66.

McBeth J, Prescott G, Scotland G, Lovell K, Keeley P, Hannaford P, et al. Cognitive behavior therapy, exercise, or both for treating chronic widespread pain.Arch Intern Med. 2011 Nov 14.


Review Date: 2/2/2012
Reviewed By: Ariel D. Teitel, MD, MBA, Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine, NYU Langone Medical Center. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 2002 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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