Rheumatoid Arthritis: The Most Common Auto-Immune Arthritis

By Christopher Gaffney, Ph.D.

When Rheumatoid Arthritis (often called, “RA”) strikes, the effects on the body can be tough to take. It causes joints throughout the body to swell, stiffen and ache with pain. RA can attack any joint in the body—fingers, wrists, elbows, knees, hips, ankles and feet—and, it can strike several joints at the same time, including those in the neck.

What causes RA?

RA is autoimmune arthritis where the immune system, designed to attack invaders or infections—attacks itself. In the case of RA, the body’s autoimmune response causes inflammation in the tissues which line the joints, as well as inflammation in various organs. Recent research has shown that people who quit smoking can delay (or even prevent) the most severe form of rheumatoid arthritis.[1]

What are common RA Symptoms?

RA symptoms affect individuals in different ways, ranging from mild to severe. Common symptoms include painful, swollen and stiff joints—often most pronounced upon waking in the morning. Feeling fatigued, under the weather, and feverish are other common complaints.

How is RA diagnosed?

Rheumatologists are medical doctors who are trained to make the diagnosis of RA and other musculoskeletal and other autoimmune diseases.

It’s important to note that no single test can definitely diagnose RA.  So, your ARBDA Rheumatologist will take a thorough medical history and physical examination.  A typical work-up for autoimmune disease can include certain laboratory tests, imaging studies (like an X-Ray, Ultrasound, or MRI) and other measures. The goal of such a thorough work-up is to tailor a treatment plan which reduce the pain you may be feeling and get you back to doing what you love most – as quickly as possible.

How is RA treated?

Because each person’s RA presents with a unique set of symptoms, treatment options are highly individualized. Targeted therapies are often the first line of treatment, along with injections, oral medicines, and infusions. Anti-inflammatory medications are often prescribed to reduce pain & inflammation as well as a healthy diet, physical therapy and exercise as parts of a comprehensive care plan to manage RA.

Getting RA under control is an ongoing process between a patient and a trusted rheumatologist. Great strides have been made in treating RA to prevent joint damage and to make everyday life more enjoyable, active and pain-free.

What is the Prognosis?

In the 1990’s – the long-term prognosis for patients suffering from severe RA was somewhat bleak.  However, in the past 20 years, incredible strides in treatment have ushered in a revolution in RA treatment.  Targeted biological therapies have paved the way for many patients to achieve disease remission.  Early & sustained treatment in RA has enabled patients to have longer, healthier lives with minimal disease progression.