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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

Exams and Tests:

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

Two lab tests that often help in the diagnosis are:

Other tests that may be done include:

Support Groups:

Some people may benefit from taking part in an arthritis support group.

Outlook (Prognosis):

How well a person does depends 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 a younger age also seem to get worse more quickly.

Permanent joint damage may occur without proper treatment. Early treatment with a three-drug combination known as "triple therapy" can decrease joint pain and damage. Many of the newer drugs have also shown positive results.

Possible 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.

When to Contact a Medical Professional:

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

Prevention:

There is no known prevention. Smoking cigarettes appears to worsen RA, so it is important to avoid tobacco. 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.

Firestein GS. Etiology and pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis. In: Firestein GS, Budd RC, Gabriel SE, et al, eds. Kelley's Textbook of Rheumatology. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2012:chap 69.

O'Dell JR, Mikuls TR, Taylor TH, et al. Therapies for active rheumatoid arthritis after methotrexate failure. N Engl J Med. 2013; 369:307.


Review Date: 1/22/2014
Reviewed By: Gordon A. Starkebaum, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of Rheumatology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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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